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14 major milestones along the brief history of 3D printing

3D printing is one of the most revolutionary technologies of the 21st century. Giving everyone from engineers and doctors to DIY enthusiasts and small business owners the ability to transform virtual ideas into physical objects, it promises to change life as we know it.

If you don’t know your laser sintering from your Shapeways or your bioprinting from your RepRaps, read on. These are the milestones we’ve passed so far on the road to making 3D printing a reality!

The earliest breakthroughs

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1800s: 3D printing doesn’t officially get started until the late twentieth century, but some of the ideas behind it date back a little bit further.

In 1859, a French “photosculptor” named François Willème demonstrates the world’s first “3D scanning” technology by using 24 cameras to simultaneously photograph subjects from different angles.

A few years later, in 1892, inventor Joseph E. Blanther is awarded a patent for a method of creating 3D topographical maps using a layering method — similar in concept to today’s 3D printers.

Both hint at the promise of 3D printing to come!

The real birth of 3D printing

1980: The first attempts at modern 3D printing are carried out at a time when most of us are still marvelling at owning our first regular printers.

The first patent relating to the technology is filed in May 1980 by Dr. Hideo Kodama of Nagoya Municipal Industrial Research Institute, describing a photopolymer rapid prototyping system. Kodama’s idea involves using vat of photopolymer material, exposed to UV light, in order to harden a part. Unfortunately, he never commercializes it.

The arrival of stereolithography apparatus (SLA)