The Evolution of Additive Manufacturing aka 3D Printing

Updated: Aug 23



The use of additive manufacturing (AM), also known as 3D printing, is becoming more and more widespread across industries of every type. Not only do they provide tooling for factories, but their materials can be found in everyday objects like airplane parts or your favorite racing car! The history of additive manufacturing technology can be traced back to the 1980s when it was first introduced. However, in the subsequent decades since its inception, many advances have been made. Keep reading to learn more about how additive manufacturing and its impressive capabilities have evolved.

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TIME FOR A HISTORY LESSON

The 1980s were a time when AM technology took off with the introduction of the first additive manufacturing system. This field has been growing by leaps and bounds ever since- with different types of technologies emerging to turn computer-aided design (CAD) files into 3D physical objects with many purposes. As the Cold War came to an end in America, military funding for science and industrial technologies increased. This led researchers down a path that would eventually explore some extraordinarily innovative ideas - one of these being additive manufacturing or 3D printing, as it's more commonly known today!


Inventor Hideo Kodama created the first 3D printer in 1984, which was an improvement on traditional two-dimensional printing. His invention used topography data from maps and scanning techniques to create prototypes for testing purposes only, but it would soon lead him into uncharted territory as this new technology developed.


Around the same time, another inventor, Charles Hull, developed a material called Stereolithography Apparatus or "SLA," where objects are built up layer after thin layer until they reach their desired shape. This milestone lead him to officially establishing the first 3D printing company in 1986. Just a year later, Mr. Hull finalized the first 3D printing machine that used SLA to produce designs. With his progress, the commercial 3D printing industry came to fruition.


Hull’s strides in 3D printing technology inspired other inventors to focus on creating additional methods and techniques for additive manufacturing. In fact, in 1991, three brand new AM technologies were commercialized. The first was fused deposition modeling (FDM), developed by Scott Crump and his company, Stratasys. The next advancement came from the company, Cubital, which brought solid ground curing (SGC) to the market. Finally, laminated object manufacturing (LOM) was developed by the corporation, Helisys.


As we headed into a new millennium, exploring the capabilities of additive manufacturing became the focus of companies and technology enthusiasts alike. This drove the competition to see who could come up with the best 3D printing technologies in the industry, further adding to the growing list of companies pioneering this technology in the marketplace. One of these companies was RepRap, founded in 2005 by University of Bath professor Adam Bowyer.


RepRap stormed the AM market with its open source style and collaboration, desktop fused deposition modeling printers became commonplace. With the proliferation of this type of technology, the company MakerBot jumped in to bring FDM printing to the consumer marketplace with its introduction of DIY kits in 2009. Now even the home hobbyist could delve into the world of 3D printing by creating designs from the comfort of home.


As more and more consumers began to buzz about all that 3D printing had to offer, another company was born, Prusa Research. This 2011 startup took the world by storm with its patented technology, the Prusa i3 3D printer. Not to be outdone, MakerBot released the Replicator 2 in 2012, which became the most popular 3D printer of the time due to its price point & ease of use. .


While MakerBot continued to be successful, other early AM pioneers, such as 3D Systems and Stratasys, merged with Objet to compete. They eventually bought MakerBot to become an industrial force. This new conglomerate sought to remedy common 3D printing complaints like printers that frequently broke down and technology that lacked the ability to execute high-value applications. Furthermore, industrial-level printers were still at a price point that made them out of reach for many.


This situation was remedied around 2013 with the development of new types of 3D printing, such as fused filament fabrication (FFF) and continuous fiber reinforcement (CFR) created by newcomer, Markforged. These advancements allowed printing to be done quickly and accurately and for new, more durable materials such as composites to be used. In addition, 3D manufactured parts were durable enough to be utilized in place of metal parts.


ADDITIVE MANUFACTURING TODAY


Additive manufacturing is driving industrial growth now more than ever before. For example, recent studies on 3D printing technology indicate that nearly half of manufacturing operations employ AM. This tech is also used by automotive and cycling manufacturers, medical product manufacturers, fashion designers, and those who deal with product development. We are also seeing an uptick in the use of additive manufacturing by the defense and aerospace industries and even in education via Makerspaces.


Unlike the 3D printing of the past, current additive manufacturing features the following benefits:


  • Modern 3D printing software is very user-friendly and doesn’t require extensive training

  • New 3D printers are high-speed and accurate, with many finish and size options

  • The materials that are used in current AM operations are affordable

  • Cloud connectivity permits designers to interface seamlessly with one another and print at any printer on their network

  • 3D printers are designed for various uses across home and industrial settings


Here at PicoSolutions, we are excited about all that 3D printing has to offer. Our company is proud to be at the forefront of the additive manufacturing industry. Our team is ready to help you scale your business by integrating new and exciting AM technologies, and we don’t stop there. We are passionate about spreading the word about 3D printing via our educational curriculum and mentorship programs.


To learn more about how additive manufacturing can bring your business to a whole new level, reach out to PicoSolutions today. We are always ready to help!


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