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


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