ProtoCAM: Additive Manufacturing, 3D Printing and Rapid Prototyping.

The History of Additive Manufacturing

October 7, 2014

Throughout the history of additive manufacturing, advances have come at the speed of light – literally. Industrial 3D printing techniques that were unimaginable just a decade ago are now commonplace … and even more change is on its way.

Additive Manufacturing Then and NowPower isn’t the only thing that has multiplied when it comes to additive manufacturing technologies, but it exemplifies how far the industry has come and how fast it has happened. Simply put, power equals speed when it comes to additive manufacturing. When ProtoCAM opened the doors in 1994, the lasers the engineers used had a power of just 150 milliwatts; today, they’re running at more than 1,000 milliwatts.

Advances in CAD technology, material development and machine capabilities over the last 20 years have also served to take additive manufacturing from a difficult process with simple results to a refined process with the capability to produce complex end products. What used to take a lot of elbow grease and workarounds
can now be completed elegantly and efficiently.

Advances in CAD Technology

Every additive technology requires a CAD file from which to work. CAD is the road on which the additive manufacturing machines drive, so additive manufacturing technology can only be as novel as a CAD file allows. Luckily, CAD technology has followed the same trajectory as much of our computer-based software.

Where there were once only a few basic shapes available, today’s CAD capabilities are incredibly rich and multifaceted. Obscure and intricate shapes are relatively easy to create and manipulate, and enhanced user interfaces have meant that even elementary students are able to experiment with CAD systems in school.

Additive Manufacturing Materials

In 1994, material options were incredibly limited, and really only appropriate for prototyping out what something might “kind of” look like. Resins were stiff, brittle, yellowish-clear and readily absorbed moisture. Part of the challenge engineers dealt with on every project was how to keep the material from warping or how to straighten it out once it had inevitably warped. Hinges had to be made by hand after production – with tape.

Today, it is a whole other world in additive manufacturing. Acrylics, epoxy resins and metals can now be counted among the tools of the trade, and digital resins can be tuned to be everything from incredibly soft and flexible to hard enough to readily withstand end-use stress. Snap-fit parts and hinges can be created right on the product, with materials that express just the right level of flexibility.

Additive Manufacturing Machines: Size, Scope, Medium

Additive manufacturing machinery has come a long way as well, advancing beyond the resilience of even the latest, high-tech materials. When ProtoCAM began rapid prototyping, the stereolithography (SLA) platform topped out at 10” x 10” and gas lasers were the norm. Today, we can reach a build size of 25” x 30,” and stable, long-lasting digital lasers create more reliable, more consistent and higher-quality parts.

Our Objet500 Connex3 PolyJet industrial 3D printing machine is the most recent breakthrough, and has expanded ProtoCAM’s capabilities exponentially. No other machine allows for such complexity, creativity and flexibility. Engineers and product designers can now build multiple materials into a single part – rubber overlays on top of a stiff part, flexible hinges, multi-color capabilities – and create end-use products that both look good and perform.

ProtoCAM: With You For the Long Haul

In 1994 ProtoCAM offered only SLA, urethane casting and CAD services.
Today we offer all the latest additive manufacturing techniques, including SLA, SLS, urethane and metal casting, DMLS, FDM, and industrial 3D printing. As the industry changes, you can be sure we’ll change along with it, offering engineers and designers even more options and capabilities.