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3D Printing History

Everyone keeps asking about the future of 3D Printing but to see the future you have to know the past...

So there's what you were looking for! An article that chronicles the most popular techniques and processes derived from Stereolithography invention and other disrupting events in 3D Printing History until the present; you can see it either on the interactive timeline or get a more detailed from the resume below.

In the end, it does not matter the file's settings, printing accuracy, speed or filament, we all are doing history right at this moment, we try to make things better by using 3D Printing technologies.

..Actually, first attempt to create solid objects layer-by-layer-like took place in late 1960s, at Battelle Memorial Institute, thanks to an experiment that involved intersecting two laser beams of differing wave length in the middle of a vat of resin, attempting to solidify the same photopolymer resin at the point of intersection.

Another significant attempt of the coming invention occurred next decade, in late 1970s. A series of patents on solid photography was granted to Dynell Electronics Corp.; the invention involved the cutting of cross sections by computer control, using either a milling machine or laser, and stacking them in register to form a 3D piece.

But it was Hideo Kodama of the Nagoya Municipal Industrial Research Institute (Nagoya, Japan) among the first to invent the single-beam laser curing approach; in October 1980, he published a paper titled Three-Dimensional Data Display by Automatic Preparation of a Three-Dimensional Model that outlined his experiment in detail. According to many sources, Kodama’s research was perhaps the first evidence of working additive manufacturing (AM) techniques in the world. Next year, November 1981, Kodama published a second paper titled Automatic Method for Fabricating a Three-Dimensional Plastic Model with Photo Hardening.

Also it was known in a Review of Scientific Instruments that Kodama described a key element of the stereolithography process when mentioned three basic techniques he used to create plastic parts by "solidifying thin, consecutive layers of photopolymer".

Considered the formal birth of Additive manufacturing in August 1984, it was Charles Hull (co-founder and chief technical officer of 3D Systems Inc.) the one who applied for a U.S. patent titled Apparatus for Production of Three-Dimensional Objects by Stereolithography, which was granted in March 1986. Same month, Hull founded his manufacturing company in collaboration with Raymond Freed; Charles Hull is also recognized for co-creating the STL file format, most common 3D printing file format in the present.

Selective Laser Sintering technology invention by Carl R. Deckard took place in 1986. Next year, 1987, 3D Systems shipped its first beta units to customer in North America, right before finalized production units started shipping in April 1988. These were the first commercial additive-manufacturing system installations ever.

Anyway, there was not always regards and credibility for Hull. In 1989, DuPont announced the development of its Somos 1000 Solid Imaging System, a technology similar to 3D Systems’ Stereolithography Apparatus. Considering their similarities, DuPont petitioned the U.S. Patent Office in September 1988 the reexamination of Charles Hull 1986 patent. Seven months later, the Patent Office told 3D Systems that it had rejected all rights in Hull’s patent. This was nearly the time DuPont decided the releasing of its Somos system, which occurred about June 1989; however, in late 1989, the U.S. Patent Office reversed its decision considering 3D Systems produced strong evidence to support the claims in Stereolithography patent, though it was required the adding of new language that narrowed its scope.

Meanwhile in Europe, 1989 saw the formation of EOS GmbH Electro Optical Systems in Germany, founded by Drs. Hans Langer and Hans Steinbichler. The EOS systems are currently been recognized around the globe for their 3D printing industrial prototyping and production applications. EOS sold its first Stereos System in 1990. The company’s direct metal laser sintering (DMLS) process resulted from an initial project with a division of Electrolux Finland (which was later acquired by EOS).

So, it can be said that Additive Manufacturing first emerged in the 1980s decade with Stereolithography (SL) technolology;the SLLA-1 was the first AM System on sale and the precursor of the SLA-250 Machine, though both SLLA-1 and SLA-250 Models were particularly expensive.

Introduction of other Additive Manufacturing technologies

Starting from Fused Deposition Material (FDM) technology invention in 1989 by S. Scott Crump (Co-founder of Stratasys), there was the time when other Rapid Prototyping technologies emerged in order to give more cost-effective methods and materials:

Laminated Object Manufacturing (LOM) creation was granted to Helysys in 1991, while Cubital Ltd. was introducing Solid Ground Curing (SGC) the same year.

Later in 1993, Soligen starts the commercialization of a technique earlier invented and patented by Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), which was called Direct Shell Production Casting (DSCP).

1994 was the year when Model Maker Wax 3D printer from solid scape (then called Sanders Prototype) became available, as did new systems from Japanese and European companies. One of the new Japanese systems from Meiko targeted mainly at the makers of Jewelry, though Meiko ended its manufacturing business in 2006, as most of the companies that poped up during early development of Rapid Prototyping.

Another worth-mentioning technique invention is the one developed in 1997 by AeroMet. It was called Laser Additive Manufacturing (LAM), enabled the manufacturing of aerospace titanium alloys parts, at least until the close down of AeroMet bussines in 2005.

In 1999 Objet Geometries starts announcing the first inkjet 3D printer based on its PolyJet Printing patent, an amazing process that enhaces the manufacturing of multiple colors and transparency levels by using photopolymers. Objet Geometries was merged with Stratasys since 2012.

Other Groundbreaking launches:
  • A Large-Scale 3D Printer by Materialise: Mammoth Stereolithography Machine (2000).