Who invented the 3D Printer? What was the first 3D printing technology? What was the first thing 3D printed? Let’s go through the untold interesting facts and stories about all these in this history of 3D printing technology guide.
3D printing was born about 40 years ago. Over time, the technology has opened up tremendous possibilities for creating a variety of models in prototyping, dentistry, jewelry, small batch 3D printing, customized products, miniatures, sculptures, mock-ups and much more.
But how did it all start?
History of 3D Printing
Below is a quick history of 3D printing timeline;
Stage 1: Birth of an Idea
Hideo Kodama, a doctor at the Nagoya Municipal Industrial Research Institute, filed a patent application for a device that uses UV light to layer a rigid object out of photopolymer resin in layers.
In the patent, he described a modern photopolymer printer. However, patent law requires anyone filing for a patent to provide the necessary data for registering the patent within a year. Dr. Hideo Kodama could not provide the necessary data and hence abandoned the idea.
Nevertheless, in many sources, Dr. Hideo Kodama is called the inventor of 3D printing technology.
In 1983, three engineers – Alain Le Mejo, Olivier de Witt and Jean-Claude André of the French National Center for Scientific Research were attempting to create what they called a “fractal object”. In the course of their experiments, they came up with the idea of using a laser and a monomer, which under the influence of a laser turned into a polymer.
The three engineers filed a patent application 3 weeks before the American Chuck Hull.
The first object created on the device was a spiral staircase. The engineers called the technology stereolithography, and the patent was approved only in 1986. Thanks to them, the most famous file format for 3D printing is called STL (from English stereolithography).
Unfortunately, the institute did not see the prospects for the invention and its commercialization, and the patent was not used to create the final product.
During that time, Chuck Hull was working for a company that made coatings for countertops and furniture using UV lamps. Manufacturing small plastic parts for prototyping new product designs took up to two months.
Chuck came up with the idea to speed up this process by combining UV technology and placing thin plastic in layers. The company gave him a small laboratory for experiments, where he worked on the evenings and weekends. For material, Chuck used acrylic-based UV-hardening photopolymers.
One night, after months of experimentation, Chuck was finally able to print a sample and was so elated that he walked home. Chuck showed his invention to his wife. It was an eye wash cup, more like a sacrament cup, according to the wife.
Chuck Hull filed a patent application on August 8, 1984, and it was approved on March 11, 1986. The invention was named “Apparatus for creating three-dimensional objects using stereolithography.”
Chuck founded his own company, 3D Systems, and in 1988 launched the first commercial 3D printer, the SL1.
Another new way of 3D printing emerged around the same time as SLA printing. This is Selective Laser Sintering (SLS). With this technology, a laser is used to convert a free-flowing powder (instead of resin) into a solid material.
The technology was developed by Karl Deckard, a young undergraduate student at the University of Texas at Austin, and his professor, Professor Dr. Joe Beeman. However, the idea belonged to Karl.
In 1987, Karl Deckar and Professor Dr. Joe Beeman founded Desk Top Manufacturing (DTM) Corp. However, it will take at least another 20 years for SLS 3D printing to become commercially available to the consumer.
In 2001, the company was acquired by Chuck Hull’s 3D Systems.
Surprisingly, a simpler and cheaper way of 3D printing – FDM (Fused Deposition Modeling) was created after SLA and SLS, in 1988. Aviation engineer Scott Crump was the person behind the technology.
Crump was looking for an easy way to create a toy frog for his daughter and used a hot glue gun. He melted the plastic and poured it into layers. This is how the idea of FDM 3D-printing was born, a technology of layer-by-layer plastic fused filament.
Crump patented the new idea and co-founded Stratasys with his wife Lisa Crump in 1989. In 1992, they launched their first serial product, Stratasys 3D Modeler.
Stage 2: 3D Printing Becomes Available
The first units 3D Systems and Stratasys built were bulky and expensive. Their cost was hundreds of thousands of dollars, and only the largest companies in the automotive and aerospace industries could use them.
The printers also had a lot of limitations and could not be widely used. The development of 3D printing technology was very slow.
20 years later, in 2005, the RepRap (Replicating Rapid Prototyper) project appeared. RepRap is a self-replicating mechanism for rapid prototyping.
The inspiration for the project was Dr. Adrian Bauer of the University of Bath in the UK. The goal of the project was for 3D printer to “self-copy” and reproduce their components themselves.
In the photo above, all the plastic parts of the “child” printer are printed on the “parent” printer. After some experimentations, a group of enthusiasts led by Adrian were finally able to create a budget 3D printer for home or office use.
The idea was quickly taken up by three technologists from New York, who opened a company for the production of desktop FDM printers – MakerBot.
This was the second turning point in the modern history of 3D printing.
In parallel, other technologies were being developed. One of them that stands out is bioprinting.
Thomas Boland of Clemson University patented the use of inkjet printing to 3D print living cells, making it possible to print human organs in the future. Research in this area is still being carried out by dozens of companies around the world.
Another important application of the new technology was the creation of prostheses, first conventional and then bionic. In 2008, the first printed prosthesis was successfully transplanted into a patient and allowed him to return to his normal life.
Another important milestone was the emergence of open source print files on the Internet. Sites like www.thingiverse.com , www.myminifactory.com and many others host both free and paid 3D printing files. Users share models on the Internet and print them themselves.
Stage 3: 3D Printing Today
In recent years, 3D printing has become available to the mass market. The prices of printers have dropped significantly, and their use has become more convenient.
Resin 3D printers print detailed models with high precision and resolution. The number of 3D printing enthusiasts continues to grow, mostly due to a huge community of enthusiasts who are ready to help newbies. This is facilitated by the availability of ready-made files for 3D printing and the availability of software for creating models.
3D printing is already becoming a standard solution in various industries, such as dentistry, jewelry, orthopedics, among others. The prospects are endless – from building houses to neurosurgery, from chocolate printing to metal printing.
If you enjoyed this article, check the video below that goes deeper into the history of 3D printing: