History of 3D Printing

The history of 3D printing is dotted with different accounts but here a very brief outline of some key points.

3D Printing or Additive Manufacturing techniques have been around for 30 years.  The first patent granted was in 1986 for Stereolithography Apparatus (SLA) and belonged to American Chuck Hull the founder of 3D Systems.  At a similar time, work was being done at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) who coined the term 3D printing. 

Whilst many of these techniques are still used today, back then the technology was referred to as Rapid Prototyping (RP).  Primarily used to create quick models in manufacturing for closer inspection, client approval or testing prior to full production.  Whilst this benefit still applies many the potential of the applications we realise today and the costs involved meant there was limited uptake.

What has spurred the recent explosion of desktop 3D printing is the RepRap Project founded by Dr Adrian Bowyer formerly of the University of Bath.  His open source design shared in 2005 has allowed many of the industry’s leading lights to get started. 

History of Ultimaker

Let’s go back several years to a makerspace in Utrecht, a big city in the Netherlands. The founders of Ultimaker, a premium 3D printer manufacturer, were inspired by the potential of 3D printing, and experimenting with the open source designs of the RepRap project. The project was initiated by Dr. Adrian Bowyer (of the University of Bath) who wanted to create a low-cost 3D printer that could print most of its own components. That, combined with making the design files accessible online to anyone, meant there were almost no barriers to building your own 3D printer.

The Ultimaker Original was hugely popular, initially only avaliable as a kit. The kit included all of the components needed to assemble your own 3D printer: from laser cut panels to stepper motors and circuit boards. The Ultimaker kit borrowed elements of the RepRap project while focusing more on speed and quality rather than self replication. From the start, the founders viewed their customers as part of the Ultimaker community. Rather than simply bringing a hardware product to market and creating the next version of it internally, they shared the design files openly and listened to the feedback of their customer community.