What is 3D printing actually? A back story. . .

3D printing is an additive build up process by which a digital three-dimensional design (CAD) data is used to come up with its physical replica with layer-by-layer synthesis of raw material arrangement. It is essentially a bottom-up additive production process by which raw materials are joined together to make physical objects using a 3D printer device. Typically, the part geometry is “grown out,” fusing with the preceding layer until the final desired object is eventually attained as per the model reference. 3D printing manufacturing can be done in plastics, photopolymers, reaction polymers, composites, ceramics, metal, glass, and other selected materials.

The first 3D printer prototype was developed by Dr. Hideo Kodama in 1981 in Japan, who invented an innovative method called RP-technology using a photosensitive resin polymerized by a UV light to manufacture three-dimensional rapid prototypes fused layer by layer. However, the first patent for stereolithography 3D printer module was made by Eng. Chuck Hull, in 1986 who was an American founder of 3D systems. Several of his patents are still used in today’s additive manufacturing processes. Hull also invented the STL. file format. In the late ‘80s 3D printing took another step forward in 1987 whereby Carl Deckard of the University of Texas filed a patent for Selective Laser Sintering; his application was granted in 1989. 

A few years thereafter, in 1988, two other 3D printing techniques were invented by Carl Deckard in the US and Scott Crump at Stratasys inc. Germany. In 1992, Stratasys developed its fused deposition modeling manufacturing technology by its founder Scott Crump, currently used by most 3D printers. Later, in 1993, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) engineered another technology named “3 Dimensional Techniques” and attained a patent for the technology licensing it to Z corporation. The technology uses an inkjet technology like that used in 2D printers. 

Throughout the ‘90s and early 2000s, new technologies continued to be introduced, though most were focused on expensive industrial applications. Companies like Solid scape, Z Corporation and Arcam were launched during this period and the selective laser melting (SLM) process was developed during this time. The market for both high-end printers and more prototyping-focused, less expensive machines both grew in this era. Z Cooperation launched a first high definition (HD) 3D color printer named Spectrum Z510 in 2005. 

Another advancement in 3DP happened in 2006 with the start of an open-source project, named RepRap project. The project aimed at creating a self-replicating 3D printer that has capability to print most of its own making objects. RepRap project uses Fused Filament Fabrication (FFF) to place down material in layers. RepRap uses ABS, Polylactic Acid (PLA), nylon, HDPE and other similar thermo polymers to print objects.

It took years - until 2009 - that the first widely available commercial 3D printers went on sale right after patent expiration. It was also about this time that the first commercial 3d printing services began to appear. Since this time, both industrial and personal 3D machines have improved in quality and quantity. In 2013, two NASA employees Samantha Snubs and Matthew Fiedler launched their large-format, affordable 3D printer, Gigabot and a new company called re:3D. Since then, 3D printers have become even more affordable and accessible for everyday applications. It’s been a long time coming since the eventual maturity of this technology for the benefit of various mechanized industries even for the individual hobbyist in the comfort of his home.  

As we now move into the 21st century, the rate of adoption of this technology has skyrocketed throughout the last decade and the rising opportunities are seemingly endless. Once considered the primary tool for designers to validate concepts to produce prototypes at a quicker pace, 3D printing now termed Additive manufacturing; has eventually become a viable and effective complement to traditional manufacturing. Thanks to the vast improvements in material capabilities, major companies in every industry imaginable are implementing additive manufacturing as an alternate solution for short-run production development, mass customization, and even high-performance parts used for medical devices, transportation, and aerospace applications. This introduction to Additive Manufacturing is a short collection of information to help you determine how this disruptive technology can benefit you and your organization. 

Yes, Additive manufacturing solution can be applied from simple to complex designs’ production substitute. Its development process has proved to be highly efficient with great potential in reducing the need for energy and resource-intensive manufacturing. It allows for sustainable capabilities to save on the amount of raw material required to produce any 3D product design there by enabling more environmentally benign practices as well.