Thursday, March 3, 2016

3D Printing Evolution of Research, Theory, Invention, and Commercial Technology

In early days, 3D printing technologies were called Rapid Prototyping (RP) technologies as these processes were originally conceived as a fast and more cost-effective method for creating prototypes for product development within industry. The very first patent application for RP technology was filed by a Dr Kodama, in Japan, in May 1980. But, the full patent specification was subsequently not filed before the one year deadline after the application.

In 1986, the first patent was issued for stereolithography apparatus (SLA) to  Charles (Chuck) Hull, who first invented his SLA machine in 1983. Hull went on to co-found 3D Systems Corporation — one of the largest and most prolific organizations operating in the 3D printing sector today. 3D Systems’ first commercial RP system, the SLA-1, was introduced in 1987 and following rigorous testing the first of these system was sold in 1988.

In 1987, Carl Deckard, who was working at the University of Texas, filed a patent in the US for the Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) RP process. This patent was issued in 1989 and SLS was later licensed to DTM Inc, which was later acquired by 3D Systems. 1989 was also the year that Scott Crump, a co-founder of Stratasys Inc. filed a patent for Fused Deposition Modelling (FDM) — the proprietary technology that is still held by the company today.  It is also the process used by many of the entry-level machines, based on the open source RepRap model. The FDM patent was issued to Stratasys in 1992. In Europe, 1989 also saw the formation of EOS GmbH in Germany, founded by Hans Langer. After a dalliance with SL processes, EOS’ R&D focus was placed heavily on the laser sintering (LS) process. Today, the EOS systems are recognized around the world for their quality output for industrial prototyping and production applications of 3D printing. EOS sold its first ‘Stereos’ system in 1990. The company’s direct metal laser sintering (DMLS) process resulted from an initial project with a division of Electrolux Finland, and it  was later acquired by EOS.

Other 3D printing technologies and processes  emerging during these years were  Ballistic Particle Manufacturing (BPM) originally patented by William Masters, Laminated Object Manufacturing (LOM) originally patented by Michael Feygin, Solid Ground Curing (SGC) originally patented by Itzchak Pomerantz et al and ‘three dimensional printing’ (3DP) originally patented by Emanuel Sachs et al. Number of  companies entered the RP market but only three of the originals remain today — 3D Systems, EOS and Stratasys.

Further research and development in the area led to the emergence of new terminology, namely Rapid Tooling (RT), Rapid Casting and Rapid Manufacturing (RM).

In terms of commercial operations, Sanders Prototype (later Solidscape) and ZCorporation were set up in 1996, Arcam was established in 1997, Objet Geometries launched in 1998, MCP Technologies (an established vacuum casting OEM) introduced the SLM technology in 2000, EnvisionTec was founded in 2002, ExOne was established in 2005 as a spin-off from the Extrude Hone Corporation.
Sciaky Inc was pioneering its own additive process based on its proprietary electron beam welding technology. These  new companies increased number of units  operating across a global market. The  accepted umbrella term for all of the processes was Additive Manufacturing (AM).

The sector now  shows signs of distinct diversification. First, category was geared towards part production for high value, highly engineered, complex parts. The production applications are in the aerospace, automotive, medical and fine jewellery sectors. Years of R&D  are now paying off. The second category of the 3D printing system manufacturers were developing and advancing ‘concept modellers’. These were 3D printers have the focus on improving concept development and functional prototyping. But, that were being developed specifically as user-friendly, cost-effective systems.

Price Competition in 3D Printing Machines

In 2007, the market saw the first system under $10,000 from 3D Systems. The popular target at that time was to get a 3D printer under $5000 — this was seen by many industry insiders, users and commentators as the key to opening up 3D printing technology to a much wider audience.  As it turned out though, 2007 was actually the year that did mark the turning point for accessible 3D printing technology — even though few realized it at the time.  Dr Bowyer conceived the RepRap concept of an open source, self-replicating 3D printer as early as 2004. 2007 was the year the shoots started to show through and this embryonic, open source 3D printing movement started to gain visibility.

In  January 2009 that the first commercially available 3D printer – in kit form and based on the RepRap concept – was offered for sale. This was the BfB RapMan 3D printer.  It was closely followed by Makerbot Industries in April the same year. More commercial model are being made available.

2012 was the year that alternative 3D printing processes were introduced at the entry level of the market. The B9Creator (utilising DLP technology) came first in June, followed by the Form 1 (utilising stereolithography) in December. Both were launched via the funding site Kickstarter — and both enjoyed huge success.

In 2013, there was significant growth and consolidation in 3D printing industry. One of the most notable moves was the acquisition of Makerbot by Stratasys.

Heralded as the 2nd, 3rd and, sometimes even, 4th Industrial Revolution by some,  3D printing is having huge impact on the industrial sector.

22 Feb 2016
Metal 3D Printed Concept F1 Cylinder Head

3D Printer and 3D Printing - Related Patents

First Patent filed by Scott Crump in 1989

Updated 3 March 2016, 9 Feb 2016

No comments: