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Classic Ideas: 3D Printing Technology

The first recorded concept of a 3D printer appears in a science fiction story published in 1945 called "Things Pass By" by Murray Leinster. In this story, Leinster described a device that could create physical objects from digital designs, similar to the way that modern 3D printers work. While the technology did not yet exist at the time, this concept laid the foundation for the development of 3D printing in the decades that followed. 

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The early history of 3D printing can be traced back to the 1980s in Japan, where Hideo Kodama was working on developing a rapid prototyping system. In 1981, Kodama came up with the idea of using a layer-by-layer approach to manufacturing, in which a photosensitive resin was polymerized by UV light to create a physical object. 

In 1986,  Chuck Hull invents the process of stereolithography (SLA), which become an important 3D printing technology. Stereolithography is a process that uses ultraviolet light to cure layers of photopolymer resin, creating a physical object from a digital model. This process was a major breakthrough in the field of 3D printing and paved the way for many other technologies that followed. Hull filed a patent application for this technology in 1986, and in 1988 he founded the 3D Systems Corporation. The first commercial SLA 3D printer, called the SLA-1, was released by 3D Systems in 1988. This marked the beginning of the modern era of 3D printing and paved the way for many other technological advancements in the field.

Another important development in the history of 3D printing has been the emergence of open source 3D printing. This refers to the sharing of 3D printing designs and information online, allowing anyone with a 3D printer to create objects at home or in their community. This has led to a proliferation of 3D printing projects and communities, as well as the creation of new business models such as on-demand 3D printing services.

In the early days of 3D printing, the technology was primarily used to create prototypes of products in the manufacturing industry. It allowed companies to quickly and easily create physical models of their designs, which could be tested and evaluated before going into mass production.

Over the years, 3D printing technology has evolved and improved significantly. The range of materials that can be used in 3D printing has expanded, and the quality and resolution of printed objects has increased. Today, 3D printing is used in a wide range of industries, from aerospace to healthcare.

One of the key benefits of 3D printing is its ability to create customized, one-of-a-kind products. This has led to the development of a new business model called "mass customization," in which companies use 3D printing to produce customized products at scale.