When Amazon was first becoming a well-known seller of consumer goods, one of their advertisements depicted a boy ordering a football online and watching as it came out of the printer. The ad closed their introduction with a statement about how they couldn’t quite do that yet, but that it was now possible to order whatever you wanted online. In the present day, it is hard to believe that what that advertisement showed to be farfetched is now possible.
What is 3D printing?
3D printing, or additive manufacturing, is a process used to make a three-dimensional object. Under the control of a computer, layers of material are added to produce any three-dimensional shape.
History of 3D printing
Though the processes that fall under the category of 3D printing are becoming more well-known today, they have actually been in development since the early 80s. In 1981, two methods were invented by Hideo Kodama, from the Nagoya Municipal Industrial Research Institute. They both used photo-hardening polymer to fabricate three-dimensional plastic models.
In 1984, Chuck Hall, from 3D Systems Corporation, used what he knew of a process called stereolithography to develop a prototype, in which photopolymers are cured with ultraviolet light lasers to create layers of material. This became the design used by 3D printers today.
The different processes, such as selective laser sintering, direct metal laser sintering, and selective laser melting, went by their own names until the early 2000s, when the umbrella term 3D printing started being used.
The aerospace, architecture, automotive, defence, and dental industries employ the use of $2,000-$500,000 3D printers, and have been since late 2012. Top manufacturers and online machine shops use the highest quality printers to create parts for a variety of uses. The best machines print products with better resolution than the less expensive ones to. However, the prices of 3D printers have decreased dramatically since 2010, with a printer costing about $20,000 back then costing $1,000 today.
Affordable 3D printers are also being developed for the average consumer’s home use, with most of the efforts targeted towards early adopters, academics, and the hacker community. The RepRap project is one of the longest-running ones when it comes to 3D printers for home desktop use, and its aim is to produce a free and open source hardware 3D printer that can create its own machines with 3D-printed parts. Other open source designs are being developed as well, taking inspiration from the RepRap project.