You Must Have Heard of 3D Printing, but What Else Do You Know About It?
Following the patent expiration, the rise of Maker Movement and widespread media coverage, the term “3D printing” is now all over the place. This overnight fame however, gives most people a wrong impression about 3D printing, which they might know nothing about.
3D printing? What’s big idea?
3D printing refers to the process of adding material bit by bit, which is the exact opposite of common digital fabrications like CNC cutting or drilling which slowly chips off a big chunk of material. After the name “3D Printing” was proposed by MIT in 1989, it was also called “Rapid Prototyping” by 3D Systems in the same year, and “Solid Free-form Fabrication” in 1990. It was only until 2010 that the American Society for Testing and Materials gave it an official definition and named it “Additive Manufacturing.” We still call it 3D Printing though, because it makes more sense.
The origin of 3D printing has been disputed. Alan J.Herbert of 3M in 1982, Hideo Kodama of the Nagoya Municipal Industrial Research Institute in 1980, Charles W. Hull of UVP in 1984 and Yoji Marutani of the Osaka Prefectural Industrial Research Institute in 1984, all proposed the idea of Rapid Prototyping separately, with different materials and methods but similar way of multi-layer stacking and hardening to create the object. Among them, Charles W. Hull is seen as the driving force of commercialized 3D printing. He founded 3D Systems in 1986, used UV laser to harden photoplasticity, developed Stereolithography, and designed the popular 3D printing file format STL. In 1989, the MIT filed the first 3D printing patent, and thus began the technological development of rapid prototyping.
The Spark of the Third Industrial Revolution
In retrospect, there have been two industrial revolutions in human history. The first one was the transition from hand production methods to machines, henceforth the era of mass production; the second one was the high efficiency of electrical appliances. Today, the third industrial revolution that digitalized the manufacturing industry is ongoing, and unlike the previous two, this one focuses on customization, which challenges the traditional way of manufacturing.
3D printing undoubtedly plays an important role. It has the advantages of low cost, rapidness, customization, and it might drastically change the global supply chain, bring factories back to the market and turn homes into factories. It might also give everybody the ability to make his own products, which would be quite different from how OEMs work. President Obama said in a State of the Union address last year, that 3D printing “has the potential to revolutionize the way we make almost everything.” Since then, 3D printing has been widely talked about in Taiwan, so much so that several traditional industries panicked and were displeased. What they failed to understand is that 3D printing will not replace traditional industries, it simply revolutionizes them
There are mainly two communities in 3D printing, one is the entrepreneurs and amateurs, mostly Makers, who use cheap but practical 3D printers or other machines to produce in small amounts; another is the major manufacturers who are trying to build a system to get a head start in the business, or using 3D printing on experimental processes like testing or making prototypes. In a world where supply from traditional industries no longer meets the consumer demand, users of all backgrounds are trying to turn this imbalance around with 3D printing, and shape the future of our world in an ever-growing speed.