Its stunning ability to create complex and creatively designed Objects and Prototypes has made 3D printing crucial to the production activities of a great number of companies across the world.
Currently technology enthusiasts are all abuzz about the unparalleled things that 3D printing can do.
However although the popularity and curiosity of 3D printing has increased over the past few years, 3D printing technology has been around for over 20 years now.
The very first 3D printer was invented by Charles Hull back in the 1980’s. Back then the printer worked mainly through the Stereolithography process, which involved the use of UV lasers in the fabrication of objects. It was around this time that Hull founded 3D Systems, one of the leading companies today in the 3D printer market.
Over the years, a lot of modifications and improvements have been made on Hull’s first 3D printer in order to reach the modern high end 3D printers which companies use today.
3D Printing in the Early Years
During the first few years after the invention of 3D printing technology, 3D printers were solely used to create prototypes. No final products or objects were made with 3D printing back then, as the quality of the objects made were too inferior. The printers also used mainly plastic materials which limited the number of possible applications.
As time passed by, 3D printing started to be used to fabricate small objects that were merely meant to showcase its abilities but were not necessarily intended to be sold to consumers. The objects made were not as creative and unique as the ones fabricated today. This is because many people weren’t even aware that the technology existed, let alone how to use a 3D printer. As a result, the creativity of the objects made was only limited to the artistic ideas of the few people who had access to the printers and knew how to use them.
Very few companies could afford to purchase the printers as they were very expensive. A single printer could cost £175,000 – £250,000. Their sky high prices made the printers only accessible to the few well established companies that could raise such exorbitant amounts of money, or those who invented the machine in the first place.
Evolution of 3D Printing to What it is Today
The very first 3D commercial printer was introduced into the market in 2003. This commercial 3D printer acted as an eye opener to many companies that were looking for a better way to fabricate their products. Companies found 3D fabricated objects eye catching and the fact that they could produce products in-house also made 3D printing more appealing.
The benefits of 3D printing started to spread fast and a good number of companies showed interest in owning a 3D printer. Nonetheless, the expensive nature of the printers proved to be an insurmountable setback for many companies that direly wanted to purchase a 3D printer.
To bridge up the gap, companies that were selling 3D printers started to gradually lower their prices and the costs of purchasing 3D printing materials. Today, you can buy a 3D printer for as low as £1500 or less. High-end models are still quite expensive selling at £10,000 – £35,000, but still way cheaper than what they were 10 years ago. The Prices of 3D Printers are still decreasing now, so it’s anticipated that they will be a lot more accessible within the next few years.
The significant reduction in price has enabled many companies to own 3D printers. Moreover the recent development of the technology has made them more efficient and advanced to produce final products such as headphones, phone cases, violins and guitars, just to mention a few. Consequently 3D printing is slowly moving away from being a technology for creating prototypes and more of a variable method of fabricating quality finished products.
The lowered price of 3D printers has not only led to increased access among the public but has also been a doorway to the introduction of more creative designs of objects. Almost any artist, designer, engineer or hobbyist can now turn their ideas into reality without the need of external companies, such as manufacturers.
For instance, 3D printing has lately been used by scientists to facilitate bio-printing in several ways. Scientists, for example, have managed to create artificial skin for severely burnt people and are now looking for a way in which they can use 3D printing to create artificial human ears to help infants who are born with defects of the ear.
On the other hand, for people who cannot afford to buy 3D printers, the establishment of 3D Printing Companies has proved to be rather consequential. Renowned companies like Shapeways and i.materialise can fabricate 3D objects out of your ideas and designs, for a small fee.
The Future for 3D Printing
By looking at the growth at which 3D printing technology has had in the past decade, the future seems to be quite promising for the technology.
The costs of 3D printers are still dropping and its applications are ever increasing.
In addition, modern 3D printers are being adapted to use a more diverse range of materials, such as glass and steel, so that they can be used to fabricate a wide array of objects.
As if that is not enough, the recent introduction of a 3D Printing Pen Called the 3Doodler was a huge success of the crowdfunding site ‘KickStarter’. The pen can be used to print 3D objects it the air, allowing you to ‘draw’ your ideas into reality. What’s more, this 3D printing pen is going to be sold at a price point of around £50, making it accessible to almost everyone.
To say the least, 3D printing technology has come a long way and is still evolving and growing. The technology has a lot to offer especially to entrepreneurs since it reduces the costs of mass production, making it possible for people to get into business without the need to have high startup capital. Therefore 3D printing has created and is still expected to create more business opportunities in the future.
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