It’s official. 3D printing is no longer an obscure branch of engineering. It has joined the mainstream culture of technological gadgets that can be bought at major chain stores by 3D print enthusiasts. The technology has been around since the 1980s, but was plagued by a number of performance and cost issues that prevented it from becoming popular more quickly. Over the past 3 to 5 years, a concerted effort was made by a number of companies to reduce the size of the printer and bring down costs by performing extensive tests and experiments. 3D printers have gone global in terms of popularity, and many companies from all over the world have started manufacturing printers. But the seed of the technology was sown and grown in America itself. Here are three of the most important companies responsible for bringing the technology out of laboratories and into the houses of the common public.
Starting at the Beginning
The 3D boom began nearly 30 years ago in 1986. Technology companies in the West Coast of California conceived a system of 3D design and manufacturing to simplify traditional manufacturing processes. 3D Systems, Stratasys, and MakerBot were the main companies which were responsible for turning the fantasy of 3D printing into a reality. 3D Systems started the trend by carrying out various experiments on the feasibility of 3D printing.
Stratasys joined the game three years later, after founder S. Scott Crump tried to make a toy frog for his daughter using a glue gun loaded with polyethylene and wax. The experiment helped Crump realize that the building process could be automated by creating the shape layer by layer, leading him to create Stratsys’s first 3D modeler. The company rapidly established itself as the leader in terms of developing industrial 3D printers that could create prototypes at an unheard of speeds. Stratasys believed in adhering to the highest levels of quality in terms of their product, and this brought up the costs of their prints, placing their technology out of the reach of common people. 3D Systems, on the other hand, while giving fair competition to Stratasys in the industrial field, also invested their resources in creating printers that could be used in homes.
The Important Players in Today’s Time
But it was MakerBot that really popularized the trend of creating 3D printers for home use. Their open source project RepRap allowed them to bring the cost of the printers down significantly. It was MakerBot’s collaboration with freelance 3D makers and software engineers that allowed them to create the home printer, and gave them a loyal following within the 3D Print community. Today, MakerBot is a global leader in the field of desktop 3D printing. Their efforts in the field allowed 3D print technology to reach not just professional engineers and manufacturers, but also enthusiastic amateurs who use the machine to build prototypes and models.
Stratasys has also grown to establish its dominance in the field of 3D printing, and offers office-based rapid prototyping and direct digital manufacturing solutions. Stratasys software is used to create complex geometrical models out of a range of thermoplastic materials including ABS, polycarbonate and ULTEM 9085 by engineers and other industry experts.
3D Systems has made its headquarters in South Carolina, and has established itself as a global, integrated solutions 3D printing company which specializes in printers, printing material, and custom-parts production. They also develop software modeling software. The company’s aim is to make the current manufacturing landscape more efficient without the use of tooling. The company makes use of proprietary processes to fabricate physical objects.
The products manufactured by the company are put to use in a wide range of industries, from aerospace, automotive, architecture, health care, dentistry, entertainment to basic consumer goods. The company is known to sell some of the best production-grade 3D printers on the market. Their online forum, Cubify, has long been a haunt for makers from all over the world to discuss 3D technology, and to contribute to various open source projects that the company still supports. Some of the advancements in the field brought about thanks to Cubify are the development of Stereo lithography and the STL file format.
In conclusion, we can see that America was the birthplace of 3D print technology, and even today leads the way in terms of innovation within the field. With new companies joining the field along with the Big 3, it can be safely assumed that America will continue to take the lead towards the worldwide distribution of 3D printing technology. It remains to be seen what new breakthroughs MakerBot, Stratasys and 3D Systems will bring about in terms of installing 3D printers in the homes of people all over the world.