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The Basics of 3D Printing

3D printing is an interesting technology that has become popular in a few years ago. 3D Printing technology also commonly known as additive manufacturing begun in early 1980s when the first patent of 3D printing was issued. Since then, this technology has continued to gain population among the professionals, hobbyists, educators, and many other groups of people. 3D printing is also called additive manufacturing technology and you might be wondering, why is it called additive manufacturing? As the name suggests, 3D printing works by building designs one layer at a time. 

Unlike other manufacturing processes in which products are created by cutting away parts from large products, 3D printing technology creates products from digital designs called 3D models by adding one layer at a time and hence the name additive manufacturing. So it adds instead of subtracting. Having looked at what 3D printing is, we would like now to learn about its evolution since its conception, where it is now and what we predict this groundbreaking technology will look like a few years to come.

Brief History of 3D Printing

As mentioned earlier, 3D printing technology is dated back to the 1980s though it existed even in 1945. In 1971, 3D printing was proposed as a faster way of making things. In 1945, Murray Leinster, in his story “Things pass by” described the general concept of the procedure to be used in 3D printing. In his story, Murray Leinster mentions the machine making drawings that it scans from photocells, and at the same time, plastic comes from one end of the drawing arm and it hardens during the process. He also mentioned that the process will start from one end of the house and build it to the end as it follows the drawing. The description of Murray Leinster perfectly described how 3D printers work and his story is clearly demonstrated in the video below where a Contour Crafting, a 3D House Printer in action.

Contour Crafting: 3D House printer in action. Source: Technovelgy

The printer above takes instructions from Computer-Aided Design Drawing (CAD) then with the use of a simi-liquid layer of construction materials, it builds the vertical walls layer by layer. Just as described in the short story, it begins from one end and moves round to the other end.

Raymond F. Jones also described 3D printing technology in 1950 in his story “Tools of the Trade” where he described additive manufacturing as the “Molecular Spray”. In 1974, David E. Jones in his Journal, New Scientist also described and laid out the concept of 3D printing. In the 1980s, additive manufacturing tools and materials were developed. In 1988, S. Scott Crump developed a special plastic extrusion application called Fused Deposition Modeling technology that is used even up to date by hobbyists and many other professionals. This technology was commercialized by Stratasys, the company of S. Scott Crump in 1992 in which they marketed their first Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) machine.

In 1993, Inkjet 3D printers also started. Sanders Prototype, Inc which was later called Solidscape started the InkJet 3D printer which was of high precision polymer jet system that had Soluble support structures which was called “dot-on-dot” technique. Fraunhofer Society also developed SLM process (Selective Laser Melting) in 1995.

In 2009, the FDM (Fused Deposition Modeling) printing process patents expired and the technology continued to mature and many authors have predicted that this technology will aid in sustainable development even in developing countries.

In 2012, a system that allows any FDM and FFF (Fused Filament Fabrication) 3D printers to 3D print using different varieties of materials was developed by Filabot Company.

As of 2018, Fused Deposition Modeling technique is the most commonly used 3D printing process and it accounts for 46% of all the processes. This is because it’s inexpensive of the other processes like SLM, SLA (Stereolithograhy), and SLS (Selective Laser Sintering); processes that were developed earlier before FDM.

During the early stages, this technology was mostly used in large industries specifically for prototyping purposes. The 3D printers used during those days were huge and very expensive. But as of 2020, 3D printers are becoming cheaper and everyone can afford them and they not only used by professionals but also hobbyists and even educators.

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