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The History Of Additive Manufacturing: From The 1980s to Today

Additive Manufacturing - 7 October, 2022
The History Of Additive Manufacturing: From The 1980s to Today
Vicki May
7 October 2022
Additive Manufacturing

The history of additive manufacturing technology can be traced back to the 1980s when the first 3D printers were created.

Since then, AM technology has undergone tremendous evolution, with new technologies and production processes being developed and commercialised.

Today, additive manufacturing technologies are used in various applications across different industries. From automotive and aerospace to healthcare and consumer goods, additive technology is transforming how products are designed and manufactured.

This article will look at the history of additive manufacturing technology, how it has evolved over the years, and how it’s changing the manufacturing landscape.

The History of 3D Printing Technology

The history of 3D printing dates back to the early 1980s when Chuck Hull, the co-founder of 3D Systems, invented stereolithography (SLA). This was followed by the development of other additive technologies like selective laser sintering, fused deposition modelling (also known as Fused Filament Fabrication), and direct metal laser melting.

Over the years, these technologies have undergone significant evolution and improvement. For instance, SLA machines have become more precise and can now print at resolutions as low as 25 microns. Similarly, SLS machines have become faster and more energy-efficient.

In the early days of additive manufacturing, the technology was mostly used for prototyping and making small batches of parts. However, with the advancement of additive technologies, it is now possible to produce large-scale production runs using these technologies.

How Additive Manufacturing Technology Has Evolved Over the Years

The additive manufacturing industry has undergone tremendous evolution since the technology was first invented in the 1980s. Here are some of the key milestones in the History of additive manufacturing technology:

Additive Manufacturing in the 1980s

The foundation for additive manufacturing was laid in 1980 when Dr Hideo Kodama, a researcher at the Nagoya Municipal Industrial Research Institute, filed the first AM patent.

Kodama’s idea was to use a container of photopolymer material and expose it to light to create prototypes. However, his idea never came to fruition due to a lack of funding.

A few years later, in 1986, Chuck Hull, the co-founder of 3D Systems, invented stereolithography, considered the first rapid prototyping system.

With SLA, Hull discovered a way to solidify liquid resin using a UV laser, which created the first 3D-printed object. In the same year, Hull filed a patent for his invention and founded 3D Systems to commercialise stereolithography.

A year after Hull’s invention, Carl Deckard of the University of Texas at Austin developed selective laser sintering, another additive manufacturing technology. SLS uses a laser to fuse small particles of plastics, metals, or ceramics to create 3D objects.

In 1989, Scott Crump, the founder of Stratasys, invented fused deposition modelling, another popular 3D printing technology. FDM works by extruding a filament of melted plastic material, which solidifies to create the 3D object.

Additive Manufacturing in the 1990s

The 1990s was a decade of rapid growth for additive manufacturing technology. In 1991, a company called Cubital invented Solid Ground Curing. SGC is a technology that uses ultraviolet light to solidify liquid photopolymer resins.

In the same year, laminated object manufacturing was invented by a company called Helisys. LOM is an AM technology that uses sheets of paper, plastic, or metal glued together and cut into shapes using a laser or knife.

In 1999, researchers at the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine created the first 3D-printed tissue. This breakthrough in the medical field opened up the possibility of using 3D printing to create transplantable organs.

Additive Manufacturing in the 2000s and Beyond

The 21st century has been a period of tremendous growth for additive manufacturing technology. More companies have entered the market, and technology has become more mainstream.

Prof. Adrian Bowyer of the University of Bath invented the first desktop 3D printer, called the RepRap, in 2005. The RepRap was open-source, meaning anyone could build one for themselves, which made 3D printing more accessible to the general public.

Objet, a 3D printer manufacturer, released the first multi-material 3D printer in 2007. This breakthrough allowed users to print objects with multiple materials, hence, parts with multiple material properties.

The turn of the decade saw the release of MakerBot, the first consumer-grade 3D printer. MakerBot was founded in 2009 by Bre Pettis, Adam Mayer, and Zach Smith. The company aimed to make 3D printing accessible to the average person. DIY-ers and hobbyists could purchase a 3D printer for their home or office.

Another company that was founded in 2011 is Prusa Research. This company developed the Prusa i3, a 3D printer based on the earlier work on the RepRap, which has become one of the most popular 3D printers due to its low price and easy-to-use design.

Following the success of the Prusa i3, MakerBot released the Replicator 2, a 3D printer that was designed for more advanced users and has become the most popular desktop 3D printer on the market.

In 2012, Stratasys and Objet merged to form Stratasys Ltd., now the world’s largest 3D printer manufacturer. The merger of these two companies created a behemoth in the 3D printing industry.

In 2013, Stratasys Ltd. acquired MakerBot in a deal worth $403 million. This acquisition helped Stratasys to gain a foothold in the consumer 3D printing market. At the time of the acquisition, cheap desktop 3D printers that lacked the mechanical properties and accuracy required for serious applications were all the rage.

In 2013, Markforged, a 3D printer manufacturer, revolutionised the 3D printing industry with the release of the Mark One. The Mark One was the first 3D printer that could print metal objects. This opened up a whole new range of applications for 3D printing, as metal objects can now be printed with the same ease as plastic ones.

The Future of Additive Manufacturing Technology

The additive manufacturing industry is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 15% from 2015 to 2025. This growth is driven by the increasing use of 3D printing technology in many industries and the falling prices of 3D printers.

One of the most important applications of additive manufacturing technology is in the medical field.

3D-printed organs and tissues are being developed that could one day be used for transplants, which would help address the shortage of organs and tissues currently being experienced.

More 3D-printed medical devices are being developed all the time. For example, 3D-printed hip implants are now being used to replace worn-out or damaged hip joints. This is a much less invasive surgery than traditional hip replacement surgery, and the patient can usually go home the same day.

The aerospace industry is another area where additive manufacturing technology has a major impact. The use of 3D-printed parts in aircraft is increasing as the technology can produce lighter and stronger parts than those made using conventional manufacturing processes.

The automotive industry is also making use of AM technology. Although we’re not quite at the point of a fully 3D-printed car, parts are being used to create prototypes and low-volume production runs. This helps to reduce the cost and lead time associated with traditional manufacturing processes.

In the foreseeable future, additive technology is expected to become more widely used in various industries. The technology will continue to evolve, and new applications will be developed, helping to drive the growth of the additive manufacturing industry in the years to come.


Who Started Additive Manufacturing?

The foundation of additive manufacturing can be traced back to the work of Dr Hideo Kodama of the Nagoya Municipal Industrial Research Institute in 1981. Dr Kodama developed a prototyping machine using 3D scanning and layering technology borrowed from 3D topographical map-making.

What Was the First Additive Manufacturing Process?

The first additive manufacturing process was stereolithography, developed by Charles Hull in 1984. This process involves using a laser to cure photopolymer resins layer by layer to create an object.

What Is the History of 3D Printing?

The history of 3D printing can be traced back to the early 1980s when Dr Hideo Kodama developed a prototyping machine using 3D scanning and layering technique. In 1984, Charles Hull developed the stereolithography process, considered the first 3D printing process. Since then, the technology has continued to evolve, and new applications have been developed.

Which Is the Oldest Additive Manufacturing Technique?

The stereolithography process, which was developed by 3D printing pioneer Charles Hull in 1984, is considered to be the oldest additive manufacturing technique. This process involves using a laser to cure photopolymer resins into 3D objects.

What Are the 7 Categories of Additive Manufacturing?

The seven categories of additive manufacturing are:

  1. Stereolithography (SLA)
  2. Selective Laser Sintering (SLS)
  3. Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM)
  4. PolyJet Printing
  5. Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS)
  6. Selective Laser Melting (SLM)
  7. Electron Beam Melting (EBM)

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