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History of Additive Manufacturing Blog

The History of Additive Manufacturing

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The first 3D printing technologies appeared in the late 1980s, and were known as Rapid Prototyping (RP) technology at the time. This is because the methods were designed to be a quick and cost-effective way to create prototypes for industrial product development.
It's worth noting that the initial patent application for RP technology was filed by Dr Kodama, in Japan, in May 1980. Unfortunately for Dr. Kodama, the full patent specification was not filed within the one-year deadline following the application, which is ironic given that he was a patent attorney!

However, the official beginnings of 3D printing may be dated back to 1986, when the first patent for stereolithography(SLA) apparatus was issued. Charles (Chuck) Hull, invented his SLA machine in 1983 and patented it instead. Hull went on to co-found 3D Systems Corporation, which is now one of the largest and most successful 3D printing companies in the world.Charles Hull

The First SLA Printer

The SLA-1, 3D Systems' first commercial RP system, was introduced in 1987, and the first of these systems was sold in 1988 after extensive testing. While SLA can claim to be the first to cross the finish line, it was not the only RP technique in development at the time.

Carl Deckard, a researcher at the University of Texas, submitted a patent in the United States for the Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) RP process in 1987. SLS was licenced to DTM Inc and then 3D Systems after this patent was issued in 1989. Scott Crump, a co-founder of Stratasys Inc. submitted a patent for Fused Deposition Modelling (FDM) in 1989, which is the private technology that the firm still owns today, but is also the method used by many of the low-cost machines based on the open source RepRap model that are popular today. 

Types of 3d printing

Stratasys received the FDM patent in 1992. EOS GmbH, founded by Hans Langer in Germany, was established in 1989 in Europe. Following a brief dalliance with SL methods, EOS' R&D focus shifted to the laser sintering (LS) method, which has continued to improve. EOS systems are now known all over the world for their high-quality output in industrial prototyping and production 3D printing applications.

In 1990, EOS sold its first ‘Stereos' system. A project with a division of Electrolux Finland, which was later bought by EOS, led to the development of the company's direct metal laser sintering (DMLS) method. Other 3D printing technologies and processes, such as Ballistic Particle Manufacturing (BPM), originally patented by William Masters, Laminated Object Manufacturing (LOM), originally patented by Michael Feygin, Solid Ground Curing (SGC), originally patented by Itzchak Pomerantz et al, and ‘three dimensional printing' (3DP), originally patented by Emanuel Sachs et al, were also emerging during these years. 

As a result, by the early 1990s, there were a rising number of competitors in the RP industry, but only three of the originals: 3D Systems; EOS; and Stratasys remain.

3D Systems Logo

AM Industry is born

Throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, a slew of new technologies were introduced, all of which were aimed solely at industrial applications. While they were mostly prototyping processes, more advanced technology providers conducted R&D for specific tooling, casting, and direct manufacturing applications. 

This resulted in the creation of new terminology, such as Rapid Tooling (RT), Rapid Casting (RC), and Rapid Manufacturing (RM). In terms of commercial operations, Sanders Prototype (later Solidscape) and ZCorporation were founded in 1996, Arcam in 1997, Objet Geometries in 1998, MCP Technologies (a well-known vacuum casting OEM) introduced SLM technology in 2000, EnvisionTec was founded in 2002, and ExOne in 2005 as a spin-off from the Extrude Hone Corporation. 

Sciaky Inc was developing an additive manufacturing process based on its own electron beam welding technology. All of these businesses contributed to the growing number of Western businesses operating on a worldwide scale. With the growth of manufacturing applications, the language had developed as well, and Additive Manufacturing had become the acknowledged umbrella term for all of the techniques (AM). 

In particular, there were numerous parallel advances in the Eastern hemisphere. However, though these technologies were important in their own right and had some local success, they had little impact on the worldwide market at the time.

3D Printing enters jewellery industry.

The sector began to show signs of substantial diversification in the mid-noughties, with two separate areas of specialisation that are much more clearly defined now. Then there was the high-end of 3D printing, which consisted of still-expensive systems targeted at part production for high-value, highly engineered, intricate items. This is still going on – and growing — but the results are just just starting to show up in production applications in the aerospace, automotive, medical, and fine jewellery industries, after years of R&D and qualification.

A lot of information is still kept behind closed doors or under non-disclosure agreements (NDA). Some 3D printing system manufacturers, on the other hand, were inventing and advancing ‘concept modellers,' as they were known at the time. These were 3D printers that were built primarily as office and user-friendly, cost-effective solutions, with a focus on improving concept development and functional prototyping. The forerunner to today's desktop computers. These systems, on the other hand, were all designed for industrial use.

Since then, metal additive manufacturing methods have become reliable and highly valued, producing some amazing products ranging from high end jewellery to Space X's boosters on the Falcon 9.

3D Printed Boosters on Falcon 9 Rocket Space X

RepRap to the rescue!

In retrospect, this was the quiet before the storm.

A pricing battle broke out at the low end of the market.

3D printers that are now considered mid-range along with modest improvements in printing accuracy, speed, and materials.


3D Systems released the first system under $10,000 in 2007, but it never quite touched the mark that it was expected to. This was due in part to the system, but also to other market factors. The holy grail at the time was getting a 3D printer for around $5000; many industry insiders, users, and analysts saw this as the key to bringing 3D printing technology to a much larger audience. The introduction of the much-anticipated Desktop Factory, which many expected would be the fulfilment of that holy grail, was hyped as the one to watch for much of that year. It was all for naught because the organisation faltered in the weeks leading up to production.

Dr. Bowyer conceived the RepRap concept of an open source, self-replicating 3D printer in 2004, and the seed was germinated in the following years with a lot of hard work from his Bath team, especially Vik Oliver and Rhys Jones, who took the concept and turned it into working prototypes of a 3D printer using the deposition process. 2007 was the year that the shoots began to emerge, and the fledgling open source 3D printing movement began to gain traction.

Open-Bionics Prosthetic Arms

But it wasn't until January 2009 that the first commercially available 3D printer – based on the RepRap concept and sold as a kit – was made available for purchase. This was the 3D printer from BfB RapMan. Makerbot Industries, who were significantly involved in the creation of RepRap until they defected from the Open Source concept after substantial investment, came in second in April of that year. Since 2009, a slew of comparable deposition printers have appeared, each with its own set of unique selling characteristics (USPs). The odd contrast here is that, while the RepRap craze has spawned a whole new industry of commercial, entry-level 3D printers, the RepRap community's attitude is centred on Open Source 3D printing innovations and keeping commercialization at bay. 
Meanwhile in 2009, OpenBionics was founded, creating accessible, low cost prosthetics using 3D Printing. And they look like awesome superhero arms!

The future and beyond!

2012 was also the year that many various mainstream media outlets took up on the technology as a result of the market split, substantial improvements at the industrial level with capabilities and applications, dramatic growth in awareness and uptake throughout a burgeoning maker movement. The year 2013 was marked by substantial expansion and consolidation. The acquisition of Makerbot by Stratasys was one of the most prominent takeovers that year.

Some have dubbed 3D printing as being the 2nd, 3rd and 4th Industrial Revolution, but the influence it is having on the industrial sector and the enormous potential it is exhibiting for the future of consumers cannot be denied. What form that potential will take is still up in the air.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Who knows exactly where 3D Printing will go, but here at 3D Store, we are dedicated to making 3D printing accessible to all. Why? Because we believe it unleashes our creative potential, to help each other and build a better world for our Grandkids Grandkids. 

I hope this article has whet your appetite with 3D Printing History!

We want to be with you every step (or layer) of the way, that's why you can discover cool projects, in-depth lessons on 3D printing techniques and even little known 3D printing gems on our blog!



the3dstore team

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