3D printing has been around as early as the 1980’s which were called RP technologies (Rapid Prototyping.) The name implies what that they were a fast and efficient process for the time. Dr. Kodama was the first person to file a patent for this technology however, as he missed his deadline for the application it was denied in May of 1980. The original product can be traced back to 1986, where the very first patent was issued for an SLA also known as stereoligraphy apparatus by a Mr. Charles Hull. Charles Hull invented the machine in 1983 and went on to co-found 3D systems corporation, which is one of the largest companies in 3D history today.
The First Commercial 3D Printer
The first 3D commercial RP system introduced was SLA-1 in 1987 and after much testing and working, was made available in 1988. While the first of its kind, it was not the only product that was available at this time. For in 1987 Carl Deckard who worked at the University of Texas, filed a patent for the SLS RP process (Selective Laser Sintering.) After the patent was issued in 1989 the product was sold to DTM Inc., and then later 3D systems. Later that year Scott Crump one of the co-founders of Stratasys INC filed a patent for FDM (Fused Deposition Modelling.) This product is still used by its creator today as well as many entry level machines based upon the open source RepRap model.
Meanwhile in Germany, during 1989 the EOS GmbH was founded by Hans Langer. After much work with the SL processes, the primary focus of EOS’s and R&D became placed upon the LS process (Laser Sintering.) In today’s market they are recognized as providing the top quality output in industrial prototyping, and production applications in 3D printing. In 1990, EOS sold their very first “Stereo’s system” which would later be sold by Electrolux Finland and acquired by EOS. This type of system consisted of DMLS (direct metal laser sintering) and led way to other projects that would soon follow.
Some other companies that emerged during this time were Ballistic Particle Manufacturing (BPM) by William Masters, Laminated Object manufacturing by Michael Feygin, Solid Ground Curing by Itzchak Pomerantz, and 3D digital printing by Emanuel Sachs. Out of the many companies that were emerging in the early nineties, only three of them remained in business today such as 3D systems, EOS, and Stratasys.
A New Focus
New technologies continued to emerge from the 90’s and in to the 2000’s focused on prototyping and R&D. The more advanced technology now began to focus upon tooling, casting and direct manufacturing.
In 1996, commercial operators Sanders prototype (later known as Solidscape) and Zcorporation were set up. Companies that would soon follow were Arcam (1997), Objet Geometries (1998), MCP technologies who introduced SLM technologies (2000), Envisiontec (2002), ExOne in 2005. ExOne became a spin-off of Extrude Hone Corporation while Sciaky INC was creating its own additive process on a proprietary electron beam welding technology. During the mid-90’s, there was a large diversity in two specific areas that are better defined today. The first was the 3D technology which were both highly expensive and high functioning. While productions are still in the works today, more can be seen in the medical, space, automotive, and jewelry fields.
Unfortunately, some prototypes were kept in discretion and were not allowed to have their information released under certain disclosures. In 2007 however, the first 3D system under ten thousand dollars emerged on the market, but wasn’t quite up to par. Unfortunately, most people wanted to find a system that cost them roughly around the five thousand dollar mark. They felt by making the 3D printers more price efficient they would be able to sell to a broader market and expand to a larger audience which was a success when the Desktop Factory with IP. In 2008, Cathy Lewis was picked up by 3D systems and seemed to vanish without much of a trace.
The First Kit
It wasn’t until January of 2009 that the first 3D printer was commercially made available with its kit for sale. While there have been a wide variety of printers and their technology, it has changed a lot in the way of technology and has created a path in which many industries have benefited from it and still use 3D technology today.