Kristian Murphy, Matthew Garcia-Ginjo and Jiawen Bai

Over the years the 3D Printing industry has been rising in popularity, with new and innovative designs being developed on a daily basis and changing the way many products are produced. 3D printing is achieved using an additive process based on a digital 3D model. Layers of material are built on top of each other until the desired three dimensional shape is formed. This has allowed manufacturers to produce products with complex shapes using less material.

The industry is still growing as there are constantly new advances in technology being developed. There are new types of 3D printers being created, as well as new and innovative materials that can be used in print, both of which are sure to change the way we produce products for years to come.

The History of 3D Printing and 3D Printing in Daily Life 

The breakthrough development and subsequent expansion of 3D printing applications went into high gear around 2010 though the history of the foundations of 3D printing occurred decades earlier. The first 3D printer appeared in 1971-1999.

Inkjet technology was invented by Teletype Corporation in the 1960s, which was the first spark of 3D printing technology. In 1971, Johannes F. Gottwald put forward his idea to, “Output an object made of liquid metal, which solidifies into a shape predetermined by the movement of the inkjet on each new layer.” In 1980, Dr. Hideo Kodama from Japan described two ways to use thermosetting polymers instead of metals to realize Gottwald’s vision. After the above exploration, the inventor Chuck Hull was the first person to actually make a 3D printer. Hull’s company, 3D Systems Corporation, released the world’s first stereolithography (SLA) machine SLA-1 in 1987. This was the beginning of 3D printing.

Now that we understand the history of 3D printing, let’s take a look at the role of 3D printing in our current society. The industry is steadily growing, allowing it to become ingrained in people’s everyday life. 3D printing is being used to build emergency shelters in disaster areas and affordable housing in developing countries. There are also many 3D printed product components used in daily life.

3D printing plays a very important role in the construction industry. 3D printing can use cleaner methods to manufacture cement-based products, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, which is conducive to sustainable development. The speed of 3D printing is also well recognized by the industry. 

In 2016, a Chinese company 3D printed an entire two-story house in 45 days. This not only saves on human resources and time, but it also reduces the dangers in the construction industry and protects the environment. These real-life examples can clearly show us the convenience and benefits that 3D printing can bring to people’s lives.

Materials, Cost, Type and End Use

This groundbreaking new technology is accompanied by a wide range of different end uses, from household items to fully functioning homes. As this technology is becoming more in-demand, different iterations of printers are being created to help support the needs of consumers.

Stereolithography (SLA) is the original 3D Printing process, excelling at printing with extreme detail, smooth finishes as well as tight tolerances. Selective Laser Sintering (SLS), PolyJet as well as Digital Light Processing (DLP) to name a few, all have been designed to satisfy the needs of customers as well as support specific end use requirements. Plastic filaments, ceramics, paper and biomaterials are used with these printers.

Following these innovations, a push for more durable materials was made in order to advance this technology. Various metals and cement were next for 3D Printing to take by storm. With the capability of building high quality mechanical parts as well as entire homes in low income countries.

One concern with this technology is the price tag on these machines. In most cases, the cost of 3D printing is dependent on the types of substrates that are intended to be used in the construction. The average cost of standard plastic filament ranges from $3.50 to $7.50 per cubic inch. When more expensive materials are required a higher price tag is inevitable. 3D printers capable of printing with materials that can withstand environmental conditions are significantly more expensive than everyday 3D Printing units and their materials.

As the demand for 3D Printing becomes greater, alternatives need to be considered in order to satisfy consumer needs. Most consumers don’t have either the space or funds to purchase these machines as they go for approximately $1000 to upwards of $50,000. 3D printing companies have realized this and are now working with consumers by allowing them to submit their designs, printing their work and shipping back the finalized piece for a healthy profit.

Look Forward!

3D printing has been around for decades, however it is just now making real headway into the manufacturing industry by offering an easier way to produce a wide range of products. It has proven to have a variety of applications. From architecture to engineering and even healthcare, people are finding new and innovative ways to incorporate 3D printing into their work.

New materials, such as metal, plastic, ceramic and more that can be used in 3D printing are constantly being developed. In the near future 3D printing will no doubt revolutionize the way products are designed and manufactured as more and more people take advantage of the benefits and versatility of 3D printing.