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    Throwback Thursday: Manufacturing Edition: 3D Printing

    Welcome to this week’s Throwback Thursday, in today’s article we will be looking at the history of 3D printing! For most of us, when we think of 3D printing, we think of modernity and futurism, but 3D printing has been around a little longer than you may think… Shall we find out more?

    Although just a prediction, science fiction author best known for 2001: A Space Odyssey, Arthur C. Clarke, was technically the first person to bring the idea of 3D printing to our imaginations. Back in 1964, during an interview on a BBC documentary, Clarke describes how he thinks the world would look in 50 years’ time. His uncanny prediction first nods to the advancement of transistors and satellites, “it will be possible for a man to conduct his business from Tahiti or Bali just as well as he could from London”. He moves on to talk about the invention of a “replicating device”, which would create an exact copy of anything – sounds familiar, right? He also mentions armies of chimpanzees doing our housework, but we can’t be right all the time!

    Moving on nearly 20 years to 1980, Japanese lawyer Dr. Hideo Kodama, was the first person to file a patent for Rapid Prototyping (RP). He was the first person to describe a layer-by-layer approach for manufacturing, although the authorities denied his application because he failed to file the patent requirements on time. This was rather embarrassing for Dr. Kodama as he was actually a patent lawyer himself – This probably wasn’t an anecdote he told his clients.

    The next step, a lesser-known step, to 3D printing happened a few years later. A French team of engineers, Alain Le Méhauté, Olivier de Witte and Jean-Claude André, who had taken a keen interest to stereolithography (SLA). However, they abandoned their work due to a lack of business prospect.

    The very first patent for SLA can be traced back to 1986, it belonged to American inventor, and inventor of the first SLA machine, Charles (Chuck) Hull. His device was the first of its kind that printed a physical part from a digital file. He went on to co-found DTM Inc., a company that 3D Systems Corporation, now synonymous with 3D printing, later acquired. Hull admitted he underestimated the impact and true potential his invention would have on the modern world!

    3D printing was put into the public spotlight and became somewhat of a buzzword in around 2009, when Fused Deposition Modelling (FDM) patents fell into the public domain. This brought on a wave of innovation since the technology was more accessible, giving it increased visibility. From the first 3D printed prosthetic leg in 2008, to the first 3D printed car in 2010, the decade saw some huge advances in innovation and manufacturing.

    Where are we now? Well, the only way is up for the technology, which keeps progressing so quickly! 3D printing is revolutionising big sectors like automotive, medical (think bioprinting), and architecture, yet the technology is nowhere near to reaching its limits yet… The question is, what do you think the rest of this article would say if it was written in 30 years’ time?

    Let us know what you think, get in touch today.

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