3-D printing is one of the technologies that is creating a big impact on the way we design and manufacture. The first 3D printer, which used the stereolithography technique, was created by Charles W. Hull in the mid-1980s.

In the 1980s, 3D printers focused on creating scale models using computer-aided design (CAD). The first patent for a 3D printer was issued to Charles Hull for “Apparatus for Production of Three-dimensional objects by Stereolithography” in 1986. Hull went on to start the first 3D printing company, 3D Systems Corporation. Stereolithography (SLA), commonly known as 3D printing, has been around since the 1980s.  In the 1980s, 3-D printing could only be done using plastic, whereas now different materials such as gold, titanium, wood etc. are being used.


A 3D printed bust of Hull, alongside the first ever 3D printer


Those early pioneers called it Rapid Prototyping (RP) technologies. That’s a bit of a mouthful for most of us, hence, the term 3D printing was born. Although printing is only one part of the process, most people prefer to use the term ‘3D printing’ when talking about the technology in general. Back in the 1980s, few could have realised the full potential of this amazing technology. 3D printing first became popular back in the late 1980s, but not in the public sense. Its early popularity was among various industries. They liked it because it offered rapid prototyping of industrial products and designs. It proved to be quick and accurate, but it was also cost effective. For a lot of industries, rapid prototyping technology was checking a lot of boxes and continues to do so.

Now too, computer-aided designs are used with stereolithography to print 3-D models in various industries. Some successful industries which are using 3-D printing are aerospace, automation, construction, fashion, food presentation, jewellery and furniture. In the aerospace industries companies are using 3-D printing to manufacture some parts of their plane as they are sturdy and can be manufactured as and when needed, removing the need to store parts which take up shelf and warehouse space. Some students and companies have created cars by 3-D printing all the parts and assembling it after printing. In fact, 3-D printing has been used by some companies in China for construction of houses as it is quicker and effective, fashion designers have started using 3-D printing to design their clothes, food companies have started printing food, jewellers have started printing pieces of jewelry to speed up manufacturing and decrease the number of defective pieces manufactured, carpenters have also started using 3-D printing for the same purposes!

These industries use three methods of 3-D printing which are material extrusion, vat polymerization, and powder bed fusion. Material extrusion and powder bed fusion are the most used methods as they are quick, effective and have less need of constant attention. 3-D printing reduces the production charges, reduces shelf space as it can be printed as and when needed, creating sturdy products using the material we need. Slowly as the technology of 3-D printing progresses, I believe that “Click to manufacture” will be the new mantra of manufacturing firms as it will reduce production time and manufacture customised high-quality products.


Different kinds of 3D printers!


Even automobile companies like Ford are working forwards to make a majority of their parts using 3-D printers, and have estimated to save $493000 a month. This saving could help them focus on different additional features, such as self-driving cars. Some other industries such as courier companies like UPC have already adopted this mantra. They have installed 3-D printers in their offices so that the producer can simply send the design and the customer can print it in the office without waiting for three to four days for the product to arrive. Other companies such as Nike and Adidas have also created 3-D printed shoes.

If I get a chance to 3-D print something I would like to 3-D print figures of my family members including me, which will act as a 3-D family photo. I would like to do so as it would remind us of the love between us. It would be a really innovative and interesting way different from the general framed 2-D family photos!

Some will say that 3D printers and 3D printing technology are now in its prime. Others will argue that there’s still a long and exciting road ahead of us. The latter group is most likely correct, as the future potential looks incredible. I really hope that 3-D printers become available at cheaper prices so that it becomes as common as a 2-D printer. Concluding, I also strongly believe that it will revolutionise the way companies manufacture and distribute their products.

~Aryan Singh, Grade 10, Podar International School, Mumbai


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