WHAT IS 3D PRINTING?
The first working 3D printer was created in 1984 by Charles W Hull, co-founder of 3D Systems, a US-based company which is still one of the biggest makers of 3D printers in the world. But it is the open source printer technology that made 3D printing popular. One such project, RepRap (short for replicating rapid prototype) was started in 2005 by Adrian Bowyer, lecturer in mechanical engineering at the University of Bath, UK.
RepRap can print in any type of material using designs released under a free software licence. It can print its own components too. The first official 3D printing machine under the project was released in March 2007 and has brought down the price of printers sharply. Easy access to 3D printing forums like Shapeways, Thingiverse and Threed ing, which provide digital models, has made the technology available to the masses. Some analysts fear that the technology could lead to losses for manufacturing companies and end the era of licences and copyrights. But Zalak Shah of Gartner Inc says that 3D printing is not likely to replace traditional manufacturing. It would be complementary to it. For example, in March 2014, General Electric announced its plan to to build the world’s first passenger jet engine with 3D printed fuel nozzles. This engine is likely to be in service in 2016 and the company already has orders worth $78 billion.
Adrian Bowyer (left) with a parent RepRap machine and the first working replica it made of itself