A Brief History of the 3D Printing Industry

3D printing (or Additive Manufacturing) isn’t new technology, but it hasn’t been on many people’s radar for long. This innovative manufacturing technology fundamentally changes the way companies design, prototype, and produce products.

What every manufacturing and engineering professional wants from their production tools are: faster, cheaper, more capability, and higher quality. Depending on the application, Additive Manufacturing can achieve all four desires.

As the industry starts to recover and mature from the consumer 3D printer hangover of the past 5 years, it’s a great time to look at the history of who and how it all started. To do so, we have to travel back in time almost four decades. This is, of course, a very condensed history and we will highlight what we think are some of the most noteworthy moments.

The Start of 3D Printing History

In 1981, Hideo Kodama published the first account of a machine that took focused UV laser light that hardened photoreactive polymers. The purpose of this technology was to create rapid prototypes and models.

Then, in 1984, while working at General Electric, French inventor Alain Le Mehaute filed for a patent for stereolithography (SLA), which is still widely used today. Yes, that’s correct, Alain filed before Chuck Hull of 3D Systems who is usually credited as the “Father of 3D Printing”.

General Electric abandoned the patent application because the leadership at the time didn’t understand what they had or the true business potential. Three weeks after that, Chuck Hull also filed a patent for a stereolithographic machine. He was lucky enough to have a patent that wasn’t abandoned, which allowed him to name the process.

Alain Mahaute was quoted saying, “I’m not bitter. I am proud of the innovative work we undertook and our efforts to promote technological innovation through the impetus of business and economic growth. Unfortunately, in contrast, I am sad for our country because this is not the only example of French innovation that has been better harnessed by those overseas, with obvious consequences for employment here.”

Continuing his thoughts on Chuck Hull, “I have great respect for Hull who had the courage to initiate the creation of 3D Systems in 1986. I also have a lot of admiration for the US’s ability to open doors to the future, even in cases where they can only understand theoretical approximations of the value[...]”

Chuck Hull might not have created the original concept, but he did develop the STL file format and other key aspects to the origins of 3D printing slicing software.

3D Printing Technology Expands

While 3D Systems with its SLA tech was starting out, other technologies were in the works. Other inventors worked on creating sintering and extrusion techniques.

It was in 1987 when Carl Deckard first filed the Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) patent. He originally created the idea while he was an undergrad. Then, he went on to develop it further while getting his Masters and Ph.D.

In 1989, EOS GmbH, a German additive company, came up with the Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS) technology. This became the only way to produce entirely metal parts without binders or fillers. With this capability, 3D printers could accomplish much more for the medical and aerospace industries.

It was also during this time in 1989 that S. Scott Crump invented Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) and then went on to found Stratasys with his wife, Lisa. A fun little fact is this concept started when Crump built his daughter a toy frog with his glue gun.

The 1990s brought several other printing companies to the forefront. Some of the most well-known include ZCorporation (powder jet binding) and Objet Geometries (polyjet).

3D Printing Takes Off

There’s no question that SLA, SLS, and FDM continue to be the three dominant techniques in the industry. In the 1990’s and early 2000’s, the technology wasn’t widely available and stayed mostly as an obscure prototyping technology within the automotive and aerospace engineering communities.

In 2005, that obscurity started to rapidly change. Adrian Bowyer from the University of Bath in London launched an initiative to create affordable self-replicating machines. The RepRap initiative, otherwise known as Replicated Rapid Prototyper, started a chain reaction in the startup world by open-sourcing the design files and software.

By leveraging many of the expired patents of FDM technology and the open-source development of other key advancements, companies such as MakerBot, LulzBot, and Prusa Research entered the arena.

History of the 3D Printing Industry In the Modern Day

We must acknowledge that enthusiasts and makers transformed the industry into the behemoth that it is becoming. Many of these engineers, makers, and enthusiasts went on to start the next generation of hardware and software companies. The advent of crowdfunding and early-stage venture capital gave opportunities to companies such as Formlabs, Carbon 3D, and Desktop Metal.

According to the Wohlers report and several other leading studies, the 3D printing industry is growing at over 30% year over year with over half of the revenue being generated by service bureaus and additive manufactured parts. There is an increasing demand in practically every industry for cheaper, high-quality parts that are produced faster and with more capabilities. As the hardware improves to match these needs, more products are being designed for, prototyped, and manufactured with 3D printing technology.

This incredibly growing demand is sparking a boom within the services sector of the industry to keep up with the increased B2B applications.

For 3D printing services, this growth comes with business scalability issues that usually include the following questions and concerns: How to price for 3D printing services How to create a customer portal How to manage client projects online 3D printing management software Automatic quoting system for 3D printing All-in-one CRM and project management.

There are some solutions out there that address maybe one or two of the above challenges and concerns. But there is only one that has created an Efficiency Platform that consolidates all of those into one easy to use package.

How MakerOS Fits into the History and Future of 3D Printing

What is a business without a plan? What is a plan without the means to execute it?

MakerOS is the means and solution to the scalability problem for 3D printing service businesses. The MakerOS Efficiency Platform helps businesses consolidate all of their day-to-day tasks into a simple online interface where all customer and team communication and collaboration can be tracked and measure in one place.

We have been proven to save over $20,000 of annual software costs for teams of 5 or more. MakerOS has also proven to increase our clients' revenue by up to 10X.

These are bold claims, so let us prove it to you.

Request your demo with one of our experts to learn more.