Evolution of 3D printers reforming lives

By | January 6, 2015

One of the hottest topic in today’s world is 3D printing. 3D printers have created a paradigm shift in the manufacturing industry by creating usable products using printers and has been a boon in various sectors. The practicality and the versatility of 3D printers have caused a major impact in lives of many. The printers adapt the addictive process technology where the design is printed layer by layer to form the ultimate product. The evolution of 3D printers went through various stages to what they are today.



Stereolithography was the earliest stage of 3D printers in which the layers were added by a chemical reaction between photopolymers and UV rays. in 1983, Chuck Hull who invented the process defined it as process to create three dimensional object by cross-sectioning the pattern of the object.

Hull with his 3D printer

Hull with his 3D printer

This first generation 3D printers worked by focusing the strong UV rays on the VAT surface filled with liquid photopolymers. The printed objects were mostly plastic. One of the key feature of stereolithography, was the speed with which it manufactured functional parts. It could print object which were 2 meter in length and the objects printed were sturdy and strong to be used as prototypes for molding, metal casting etc., However, the liquid photopolymers were too expensive which shot up the cost of the whole printer hindering the penetration of the printer in the general market.

Fused Deposition Modeling:

Fused deposition modelling(1988) and selective laser sintering(1992) were two other methods that came into market after few years and used addictive manufacturing techniques like that of stereolithography. In Fused deposition modeling, the material was supplied by unwinding the plastic filament or the metal coil to produce the object. It did not make use of the UV rays like the stereolithography.

Process of FDM

Process of FDM

Also, usable products could be produced by FDM unlike stereolithography which could produce only prototypes. This technique was patented by Scott Crump who then founded the company Stratasys Inc.

Selective Laser Sintering:

Selective laser sintering (SLS) technology made use of laser instead of UV rays and powdered base instead of liquid base when compared to that of the stereolithography.  The key advantage of this technique was its ability to produce wide range of products from plastic to ceramic to metals. This technique belonged to the company called 3D systems which was run by Chuck Hull, the founder of stereolithography. Slightly modified versions of this technique is widely being applied in most of the current generation 3D printers.


Though these technologies were very potential and capable of printing solid usable object, they were not perfect and were in their infant stage. There were lot of research and development in the field of 3D printing between 1990 to 2000 but their considerable output was very minimal. In late 1990s, studies were done to make use of 3D printers in the field of medicine.


3D printing took a giant leap in the industry in 2002 when the first miniature functional kidney was printed and implanted in an animal to purify blood and produce urine. This technology was developed by the scientists in Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine who then started to work and develop other function organs using the patients’ own cells as that would reduce the risk of rejection. The technology used bio-material that are bio-compatible, feasible and sturdier than some of the actual body parts which increased the success rates of using the parts printed by bio-printers.  Organovo was the first company to commercialize bio-printers. This recent technology was capable of producing finest artificial organs from skin to human bone. Bio-printer attributed to significant contributions in the medical field of tissue engineering.


Democratization of 3D printing:

In 2005, Dr.Adrian Bowyer initiated a project RepRap which was an open-source initiative to create a 3D printer that could build itself. In 2008, a printer named Darwin was released that could replicate itself which kick-started the power to create anything one wanted among the general public.  The release of this printer and democratization of manufacturing had captured the public market to bring their ideas to life and creating the home-needs at the comfort of their house. The versatility of customization had led the 3D printing to reach great heights.

Dr.Adrian Bowyer with self-replicating printer

Dr.Adrian Bowyer with self-replicating printer

The first SLS machine was commercially available around 2006 which opened doors  to on-demand manufacturing of any product. 3D printing startup Objet which has now merged with Stratasys Inc., had built a machine that allowed single product to be fabricated in various versions and various product properties.The intensive creative innovation of the decade was crowned off with the release of Shapeways, a 3D printing market place where creators got opinions and feedback from consumers and fabricated the products at an affordable rates.

With the rise of the 3D printers in the market and fall of its price in the market, sky becomes the limit for what one wants to create with printers. Printing only in plastic was long gone, now people can print even their engagement or wedding ring of one’s dreams. But cautions should be taken for the game changer 3D printers could disrupt man’s life from manufacturing to medicine or even military strategies.  In short, the evolution of 3D printers in past years moved from a vague industrial method to a paradigm of digital-age novelty – with all the exciting potential, loud hype and unformulated threat that followed it.