3D printing is 30 years old! Can you believe it?

3D printing is a hot topic nowadays. You might be inclined to think that it’s a new technology that was conceived just a few years ago. In fact, it’s more than 30 years old and the first concepts go back even further. The history of 3D printing is as fascinating as 3D printing itself.

It started with an idea

The first ideas for something akin to a 3D printer appeared as early as the 1960s. The beginning of the technology, however, is considered to have occurred in 1984. That is when Charles Hull invented stereolithography (SLA). The way SLA works is to harden liquid resins layer by layer with laser. Hull also created the STL file standard which is still in use today in the world of 3D printing. The first object thus printed was a coffee cup. Two years later Hull obtained a patent for his invention. He also established one of the biggest companies in the world in the field of 3D printing; the company is still active today.

In the late 1980s, specifically in 1988, Scott Crump developed a different 3D printing method: FDM. In this method molten material is applied layer by layer, pressed through a heated nozzle which controls the flow and moves to the appropriate positions to create the desired object. A new solution appeared in 1992, when SLS, or selective laser sintering, was developed. SLS uses powdered material hardened with laser. First, subsequent layers are placed and then they are machine-hardened. Non-hardened elements are removed.

Even back then 3D printing was more than just an academic consideration. In the 1990s the industry started to use 3D printing, but only a limited number of companies could afford the very high costs. This started to change at the turn of the century and only the last 5 years has seen widespread use of commercial printers. The field is constantly developing, new techniques and new materials for printing are emerging. The possibilities of the use of 3D printing are also increasing.

Usefullnes of 3D printing

Nowadays, the use of 3D printing in medicine—to support complex surgery thanks to modeling and creating individualized prostheses—is a widely discussed topic. The first use of 3D printing in medicine was in 1999 when the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine enlarged a patient’s bladder. The means for this was a 3D-printed synthetic skeleton which was covered with the patient’s cell. Since then, work has been conducted on more widespread use of 3D printing in transplantology. In 2002, a partially 3D-printed kidney was created and implanted into an animal.

The most recent history of 3D printing encompasses not only industrial applications, but also making this technology available to the average user. In 2005 Dr Adrian Bowyer of the University of Bath designed an open-source project of a self-replicating printer. This means that most of the printer’s components can be created using the printer itself, and the rest can be readily purchased in any electronics store. This was 3D printing has become cheaper and enable people with a passion to print even more printers. Since then, more and more companies have taken an interest in manufacturing commercial 3D printers.

Zortrax’s chapter of 3D printing history

3D printers by Zortrax have been available for a few years now and the history of the company goes back even further. Development of the first device created in Olsztyn, Poland, started as early as 2011 and sales commenced in 2014. Zortrax printers have always been recognized for their superior quality, splendid design, and above all, ease of use. They are Plug & Play printers: you unbox them, put the filament inside, select the file to be printed, and start printing. This way, 3D printing has become accessible, simpler, and cheaper.

2016 will be marked in history of 3D printing thanks to the introduction of the Zortrax M300 printer. The device has a large working space, which gives its users new possibilities while retaining the advantages of the M200: ease of use, reliability and precision.

The development of 3D printing is far from over. Many breakthroughs still await us. Thanks to companies such as Zortrax the technology is now at your fingertips. You can go to a store and leave with a 3D printer ready to be turned on and start printing out your projects.