Written by: Eitan Yona and Megan Factor
3D printing is one of the most disruptive and quickly-adopted technologies of the 21st century. The boom that has launched this industry to the forefront of the manufacturing world seems to have sprung out of nowhere. Suddenly, 3D printers became very common, seemingly overnight! In actuality, hundreds of years of advancements have led to this new age of technology. But where did it all begin? Let’s take a look at the roots of the additive manufacturing industry and how it has shaped our present state.
Where It All Began: The Industrial Revolutions
Although though the initial Industrial Revolution did not involve 3D printing as we know it today, it is important to understand how it evolved and influenced our current situation. It all began in a period from 1760 to around the mid-1800s in Britain. Workers transitioned from hand production to new methods carried out with the help of machines. Chemical manufacturing, steam power, machine tools, and new iron and chemical production processes changed how goods were produced. Many industries, especially textiles, experienced huge booms in demand which eventually caused a decrease in price, making traditionally expensive goods attainable to more of the population. These advancements paved the way for even greater technological leaps later in the 19th century.
This Second Industrial Revolution allowed for the rapid movement of people and ideas all over the world thanks to booming railway, telegraph, and electrical systems that sprung up during the 1870’s. Contrary to the First Industrial Revolution, the innovations that took place during this period were more science-based and produced engineering feats on a large scale. One of the most important advancements was the mass-production of the lightbulb and continued electrification of major cities.
This next industrial revolution takes us to one of the most powerful and deadly developments ever created: nuclear power. Occurring nearly a whole century after the second revolution, this new dawn of technology witnessed the rise of other powerful progressions such as the transistor and microprocessor. Perhaps the greatest achievement from this period is the boom of telecommunications and computers.
Now we find ourselves facing the Fourth Industrial Revolution characterized by a fusion of technologies that blur the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres. It is marked by a number of technological breakthroughs in many fields including robotics, artificial intelligence, the blockchain, IoT, 3D printing, and autonomous vehicles, just to name a few!
From There to Now
That was a nice history lesson, but let’s get into the thick of why you’re really here: 3D printing! We can now view the present through a lens of the past to compare how traditional manufacturing technology stacks up against modern digital fabrications. This industry is complex and there are many modern fabrication techniques, but for our purposes we are only going to focus on the two main manufacturing technologies: laser cutting technology and Computer Numerical Control.
Laser cutting technology may sounds like it belongs in a Star Trek episode, but it has been around for quite some time. The process includes a laser cuts through material that is typically used for industrial manufacturing applications.
Computer Numerical Control, or CNC, is the automation of machine tools that are guided by computers, which are executing pre-programmed sequences of machine-controlled commands. This is in sharp contrast to manually controlled machines that were popular during the first and second industrial revolutions and required a large labor force to operate.
Both of these methods can be very complex, time consuming, and expensive. Luckily, we are experiencing the rise of 3D printing!
All Caught Up
So what exactly is 3D printing? Simply put, it is an additive manufacturing process in which material is joined or solidified under computer control to create a three-dimensional object. This is the direct opposite of traditional subtractive manufacturing that involved cutting out or hollowing metal and plastic to achieve the desired effect.
3D printing not only enables users to create complex objects but reduces the amount of material needed.
Are you interested in learning more about 3D printing? Stop by the 3D Printing Experts YouTube channel for fun, informative videos posted weekly.