History of 3D Printing

A brief history of 3D printing

In 1860, French sculptor François Willème (U.S. patent 43822, 1864) came up with photo sculpturing, obtaining three-dimensional images of an object through multiple-angle renderings. By placing the object in the center of the area, and simultaneously using 24 cameras on a 360-degree circle, he managed to project the obtained three-dimensional three-dimensional images on the screen one by one creating the 3D object with the help of a pantograph. In 1892 an Austrian officer, Joseph Blanther proposed the idea of using a layered casting method to create military maps. This method was based on imprinting a series of topographical lines on wax plates, and then he cut them out, polished and stack them layer by layer, creating the negative shape (mold) of a complete topographical map (US patent 473901A, 1892).

3D printing as we know it today began in the mid-1980s. Its path goes through several stages which are:

  • 1980-1990: Early stage of 3D printing.
  • 1990-2000: Development of 3D printing machines and techniques.
  • 2000-2010: Cost reduction and spread of 3D printing.
  • 2010-present: Industrial development and integration of 3D printing.

The early stage of 3D printing

The first approach to creating 3D printing technology was made in May 1981 by Dr. Hideo Kodama, who published details of a "rapid prototyping" technique.  His research was the first to describe the layer-by-layer approach and was based on the method of stereolithography. In 1984, three French engineers Alain Le Méhauté, Olivier de Witte, and Jean Claude André filed a patent for the Stereolithography process, which they abandoned.  At the same time, Charles 'Chuck' Hull filed his patent for Stereolithography, with additional new features.  These new features were that the file was in STL format and 1986 he created 3D Systems releasing the first 3D printer, the SLA-1 model. Two years later, in 1988, Carl Deckard from the University of Texas filed a patent for Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) technology where the printer uses a laser beam to fuse powdered material into solid structures. Reaching 1989, the company Stratasys was founded. One of its founders was Scott Crump, who filed a patent for Fused Deposition Modeling, perhaps the best-known technique in 3D printing today.

In brief

1981: Rapid prototyping, Hideo Kodama

1984: The first patents for stereolithography by Alain Le Méhauté, Olivier de Witte, Jean Claude André in France, and Charles 'Chuck' Hull in the USA

1986: Charles Hull builds the first SLA printer

1988: 3D laser printing for powdered material fusion (SLS)

1989: Patent for Fused Deposition Modeling printing


Development of 3D printing machines and techniques

In this particular decade, additive manufacturing development has rapidly developed. Key machine manufacturers emerge along with refined versions of the existing technologies as well as new ones. In Europe, EOS GmbH is founded creating the first EOS "Stereos" system (1990) for industrial prototyping and 3D printing production applications. Its industrial quality is today recognized worldwide as SLS (Selective Laser Sintering technology) for both plastics and metallic materials. Stratasys launches (1991) its first FDM printer and also DTM Inc. introduces its first SLS printer (1992), while a new 3D printing technique based on inkjet printers is developed at MIT. ZCorp utilizes this new technology to launch its first 3D printer, the Z Corp Z402 (1995). Solidscape is founded, creating 3D printers using wax as raw material. Model Maker (1994) made it possible for the company to be established as the favorite among jewelers selling 3D-printed jewelry. Another company, Arcam (1997), develops metal 3D printers where electron beam melting is used instead of a laser beam. In 1998, Objet Geometries was founded in Israel, introducing PolyJet 3D printing technology to the world. A great milestone for the technology was achieved in 1999 when the first 3D printed innovation in the medical industry took place. Scientists at Wake Forest's Institute for Regenerative Medicine were able to 3D print synthetic human bladder scaffolds. At the same time, new CAD tools are being developed to allow 3D models to be created with greater ease.

In brief

1990: EOS creates the EOS Stereos

1991: Stratasys creates its first printer

1993: Solidscape is created

1995: Z Corporation builds the first inkjet printer.

1999: The first synthetic 3D printed scaffold was manufactured


Cost reduction and spread of 3D printing

During this decade, open-source printers were created. This development helped to create cheap printers and as a result, helped to a wider spread of 3D printing. Based on Lecturer Adrian Bowyer's (Bath University) idea of self-reproducing printers, the RepRap Project was created using the open-source movement. The result was the creation of a 3D printer called RepRap, which became the inspiration for virtually every successful low-cost 3D printer from that point on. The RepRap 3D printer is made of many plastic parts that can be printed by RepRap itself. This means that any owner of a RepRap can print another 3D printer - hence "self-replicating" - along with other parts, tools, or designs. In 2008, the release of the "Darwin" RepRap 3D printer was widespread.

The success of the RepRap project was a catalyst for the rise of various commercial 3D printers. The expiration of many of the patents in 2006 related to FDM, which were filed in the 1980s, caused even more growth of 3D printing manufacturers in the market - a notable example is Makerbot, which was founded in 2009. Makerbot promoted the technology to both professional and amateur users or "builders". The company sold open-source DIY kits that allowed customers to build their 3D printers.

In brief

2005: RepRap project. Open source printers

2006: Patent expiration for FDM technology

2008: 1st cheap FDM printer "Darwin" RepRap

2009: MakerBot, open source DIY kit


Industrial development of 3D printing

In 2010, the enormous demand for 3D printed objects led to the creation of several service companies such as Shapeways, Sculpteo, i.materialise, and later 3D Hubs.  In 2011, the company Kor Ecologic produced the first 3D-printed car. In 2012-2013, Stratasys merged with Objet and bought MakerBot at a later stage and became a closed-source system. In the meantime, in 2014, the patents for SLA and SLS technologies expired, enabling new manufacturers to enter the market and resulting in a further reduction of initial investment costs. In the same year, NASA announced that a 3D printer has been used in space, creating the first 3D-printed object outside planet Earth. In 2015, Carbon3D announces a new innovative technology (CLIP) that enables printing jobs 100 times faster while Desktop Metal invests in, Bound Metal Deposition technology, which is based in FDM but utilizes a different composite material composed of metallic powder and a binder. During the same year, Cellink launches the first” bio-ink”. In 2016, Ultimaker released Ultimaker 3 model, which was an instant success, winning several best 3D printer awards. Ultimaker has since released two more improved models the S3 and S5, which have also received positive reviews. In 2018, the first low-cost, inexpensive resin printers were created and in 2019 the world's largest 3D printed building by the company Apis Cor One-Ups Itself was created in Dubai. In the same year, Carl Deckard, the genius inventor of Selective Laser Sintering, dies at the age of 58. In 2019, there were recorded more than 170 printer manufacturers worldwide.

In brief

2010: Creation of Shapeways, Sculpteo, i.materialise, and 3D Hubs

2011: Printing the first car

2013: NASA prints in space

2015: CLIP technology from Carbon3D

2018: Cheap resin printers

2019: Carl Deckard the inventor of Selective Laser Sintering died.