While it may seem like 3D printing is still a fairly new technological advancement, it has been around for longer than you might think, and also has further to go before it realizes the promise of its potential.
To bring you up to speed and paint a picture of what the future could hold, here is a look at where 3D printing came from and where it is headed.
Four decades ago a Japanese researcher called Hideo Kodama attempted to patent the concept which is the foundation for modern 3D printing; that three-dimensional objects could be created layer by layer, starting from scratch and adding material consecutively.
At roughly the same time, another team in France developed a similar system, yet with Kodama’s patent application rejected and a lack of support for the French team’s efforts by their employer, neither gained traction.
By 1986, a precursor of 3D printing known as stereolithography was developed by US-based engineer Charles Hull. A far cry from the kinds of 3D printing services found today, the process saw a liquid base cured by UV light to create solid objects.
Once again, other teams were working contemporaneously on rival approaches, the first of which was selective laser sintering, in which powdered material could be combined using high-powered lasers to fuse into the desired components. The second was fused deposition modeling, which relied on heat rather than laser light to achieve a similar effect.
Further developments to 3D printing were made over the course of the 1990s and early 2000s, but it was only once the initial patents for fused deposition modeling expired that it became commercially viable for the equipment to enter the mainstream marketplace at an affordable price point.
From 2010 onwards, it was not just commercial organizations that were able to make use of additive manufacturing techniques, but an entire army of domestic users following tutorials. This led to a whole raft of innovations and boundary-pushing breakthroughs, ranging from rapid prototyping in manufacturing to the development of 3D printing for prostheses and even replacement organs.
3D printing even proved to be instrumental in helping to tackle the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, overcoming the limitations of supply chains to allow individuals and businesses to print PPE.
The growth of 3D printing services as found on this page as a technology for commercial and personal use has paved the way for a bright future in which it is more accessible and widely used than ever.
Aside from its aforementioned applications in manufacturing and healthcare, it is also being posited as a technique that could facilitate the construction of bases on other planets in the solar system, ultimately empowering humanity as it strives to colonize first the Moon, then Mars, and onwards elsewhere.
Such concepts may seem fanciful today, but the humble origins of 3D printing and the fact that it is still relevant today prove that it has the staying power to make this happen.