Sometimes, the best way to understand where something is going is to look back. So many ‘experts’ claim to know the future of 3D printing, but it has already been on an incredible journey: from stereolithography to fused deposition modelling, 3D printing may be complex but it is now becoming an incredibly accessible technology. So where did it all start?
It may surprise you to learn that 3D printing isn’t actually a technology of the millennium: actually, it was starting to be conceived and developed almost twenty years beforehand. Hideo Kodama of Nagoya Municipal Industrial Research Institute, Japan, is credited with creating not just the first, but also the second additive methods that used plastic which hardened under UV exposure.
Alain Le Méhauté, Olivier de Witte, and Jean Claude André took their collective research into stereolithography – that’s using light that causes molecules to link into chains – and tried to patent the idea for stereolithographic printers. In the end, the patent was given up, and just three weeks later, Chuck Hull of 3D Systems Corporation filed his own version for a patent – and was awarded it. This is the technology that almost every 3D printer still uses today, but Alain Le Méhauté, Olivier de Witte, and Jean Claude André didn’t lose out completely. They developed and patented the STL file types, something used by most people in 3D printing today.
- Scott Crump finally perfects the fused deposition modelling technique (FDM), and creates the first machine that is available for people to purchase. Just a year later, Solidscape releases a high-precision polymer jet fabrication system, known as the ‘dot-on-dot’ technique.
Metal starts to get added to the melting pot, and the uses of 3D printing machines start to sky rocket. Researchers at Stanford and Carnegie Mellon University push the boundaries of what is considered possible, and additive manufacturing (in which metal was directly added to a project) is created.
You would be forgiven for thinking that after such a stellar growth in such a short period of time, 3D printing would now be available for anyone who wanted to try it: whether amateur or artisan. But although the complexity of 3D printing machines has grown, much of the investment and research has avoided exploring size and filament creation.
Factories that use 3D printing on a regular basis for plastic frequently waste huge amounts of it because of the initial start-up of the machines, and changes to the type of plastic that is being moulded. That plastic is often discarded, considered useless, and drains a company’s financial and practical resources.
That is why we believe that transforming the process of filament is the key to unlocking the next stage of 3D printing. By reclaiming that filament process and gaining back the majority of that ‘waste’, a company will not only soften its bottom line financially, but increase productivity, and increase its sustainability efforts – all in one single move.
After talking with manufacturers from around the world, none of whom believed that it would be possible to create a filament solution on the small scale that we were designing, we created the Strooder. It creates filament from plastic pellets and plastic waste, giving factories and artisans the ability to reuse and recycle the offcuts, waste, and old designs that they no longer want.
We may not have a crystal ball that can see into the future of 3D printing, but we’re certainly spearheading the 3D filament revolution.