3D Printing: The Past, Present and Future of Manufacturing and Consumer Products

3D printing technology has grown exponentially over the past 4 decades. The origins of 3D printing started in the early 1980s when the technology was exclusively for high end manufacturing processes. Today, 3D printing is both used for large scale consumer products and home use. Throughout the history of 3D printing, there have been many competing techniques that have been bought out by big 3D printing companies such as 3D-Systems Corporation. From Sterolithography (SLA) to Selective laser Sintering (SLS), 3D printing is becoming an emerging means for manufacturing. This is mainly because printing materials not only cause minimal damage to our environment, but it also prevents wasting material. As opposed to being a subtractive process, in which materials need to be cut to mold into a new shape thus wasting the remaining metal, 3D printing allows us to manufacture products in an additive process by simply adding necessary material to a product designed from a computer aided design (CAD) program.  Despite the implications for this technology, it still has setbacks such as low efficiency and maintenance. With the emergence of a new 3D printing technology called continuous liquid interface Production (CLIP), 3D printing can now become more efficient, easy to use, and almost universal to all liquid polymers. Making CLIP technology a more global means of 3D printing will allow the emergence of a new industrial revolution where products can be made both efficiently and leave little waste.

In its beginnings during the early 1980s, 3D printing was originally known as Rapid Prototyping technologies because of its use as a model creator for further product development within a manufacturing industry [1].  The first type of 3D printing process that emerged in the industry was sterolithography (SL). In SL, lasers precisely cure a shape around a photopolymer located on a moveable platform. This platform, like other 3D printing processes, can move in the X, Y, or Z axis. The laser however only moves in the X and Y axis relative to the platform surface, forming a hardened resin shape. Layer by layer, the laser will cure the material by dropping the platform along its Z axis until the object is completed and then the desired product is raised out of the platform.  This 3D process was invented by Charles Hull who became the co-founder of 3D Systems Corporation. Once SL was realized to be a viable and precise means of manufacturing, a variety of 3D printing processes emerged as a result of competition within this market. From Digital Light Processing to Electron Beam Melting, innovators across the globe have been developing various means to make 3D printing the universal means of manufacturing.

Not only have 3D printing processes shown its growth in the manufacturing industry, but its growth is also very prevalent in the consumer market. Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) is the most common 3D printing technique because in addition to being used in large factories and research laboratories, FDM is used in homes for leisure. FDM works by first processing a CAD file on any regular computer connected to an FDM printer.  The printer will take the CAD information and extrude a filament on a platform in a layer by layer process to ultimately create the individuals wanted design. This 3D printing technique was created by Scott Crump, who has now become the chairman of Stratasys Ltd [2].

As a result of all of the competition within the young industry, 3D printing technology is constantly innovating new methods of creating products. Notably, a startup company from Redwood City, California saw the growth prevalent in this field and is in the process of creating what could be a breakthrough in 3D printing. Carbon 3D founder and CEO Joseph DeSimone has created a technique in 3D printing where as opposed to using solid resins or filaments, the technology uses a liquid polymer as its base for printing. This printing technique is called Continuous Liquid Interface Printing or CLIP. In CLIP, UV light and oxygen are used hand in hand to promote and inhibit photopolymerization of a particular liquid polymer material. The liquid material lies on a bed and like SL; the technology uses the light to cure the material. However, what makes CLIP stand out from all other 3D printing techniques is that it does not process the material in a layer by layer process rather; it uses light to harden the entire 3D shape of the material through the liquid polymer as well as inhibit any hardening on other areas of the polymer through the addition of oxygen. The combination of oxygen and light will allow the shape to be most precisely created in the polymer which once done, will be slowly lifted up by a platform, thus creating product [3]. By avoiding the layer by layer technique, CLIP printing has the potential of becoming up to 100 times faster as a manufacturing process than typical 3D printing techniques [4].

Upscaling CLIP technology for factory and consumer use will not only allow for quicker and more accurate prints, but it may finally make conventional manufacturing processes obsolete. As opposed to creating products cutting and wasting any residue from a solid block of material, 3D printing, particularly CLIP technology, will allow for both an efficient means to develop product without leaving any important materials to waste or are forced to recycle said material, a process that in it of its self can be expensive. The creation of CLIP as a 3D printing technique is definitely a huge jump in the industry as it stands out in efficiency and comprehensive use. With the rate that 3D printing innovation is moving, who knows where the technology will go next?


  1. “3D Printing History: The Free Beginner’s Guide – 3D Printing Industry.” 3D Printing Industry. Accessed January 24, 2016. http://3dprintingindustry.com/3d-printing-basics-free-beginners-guide/history/.
  2. Palermo, Elizabeth. “Fused Deposition Modeling: Most Common 3D Printing Method.” LiveScience. 2013. Accessed January 24, 2016. http://www.livescience.com/39810-fused-deposition-modeling.html.
  3. “Carbon 3D Unveils Breakthrough CLIP 3D Printing Technology, 25-100X Faster.” 3DPrintcom. 2015. Accessed January 24, 2016. http://3dprint.com/51566/carbon3d-clip-3d-printing/.
  4. “What If 3D Printing Was 100x Faster?” Joseph DeSimone:. Accessed January 24, 2016. http://www.ted.com/talks/joe_desimone_what_if_3d_printing_was_25x_faster.

Image References:

  1. https://blogs.windows.com/devices/2013/01/22/10-fascinating-facts-about-3d-printing/
  2. http://www.businessinsider.com/will-3d-printing-go-mainstream-2013-1

Eman Mirdamadi is a third-year student at the George Washington University majoring in Chemistry. Eman currently does research for the department of Mechanical and Aerospace engineering at GW with an objective to fabricate various human tissues using 3D printing technology and artificial cells.

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