Metal 3D printing is not a new phenomenon that emerged overnight; it has undergone a relatively long process of growth and development.
1. The Emergence of Metal 3D Printing Technology
The idea of 3D printing originated in America at the end of the 19th century, but it was not until the 1980s that the concept of 3D printing was truly established, after scientists and technology workers had long pursued the idea of reproduction technology.
In 1982, the first public entity model printing was achieved by the Nagoya Industrial Research Institute in Japan. However, Charles W. Hull, who is often credited with inventing the "modern" 3D printer, defined the patent term StereoLithography Appearance (SLA) in 1984, which generated three-dimensional object models by creating multiple sections and converting the designs into physical objects. This also marked the birth of 3D printing technology.
2. The Broad Application of Metal 3D Printing Technology
After entering the 21st century, metal 3D printing technology gradually gained widespread acceptance, especially after 2010, when the technology advanced significantly. Metal 3D printing has been playing a unique role not only in product design, architectural design, industrial design and medical product design, but also in fields such as film and animation, meteorology, education, and food industry.
Currently, metal 3D printing technology has achieved good development results in China. The application development in scientific research has been relatively rapid, and some scientific achievements have been applied in cutting-edge fields such as aerospace, biology, and medicine. Some SMEs have become agents for some countries' 3D printing equipment, distributing complete sets of 3D printing equipment and providing services specifically for related enterprise R&D and production. Currently, China also has some manufacturers of metal 3D printing services that are in a development phase.
China's advancements in metal 3D printing technology have yielded impressive outcomes, particularly in scientific research and its application in cutting-edge sectors like aerospace, biology, and medicine. Additionally, the emergence of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) acting as agents for foreign 3D printing equipment has facilitated the distribution of complete sets of equipment, providing specialized services for proto mould-related enterprise R&D and production. As a result, China's metal 3D printing services sector is also witnessing growth and development.
3. The Growth and Development of Metal 3D Printing Technology
In 1993, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology was authorized to develop 3D printers based on 3DP technology, which sparked the development of 3D printing technology. The China Internet of Things School-Enterprise Alliance referred to metal 3D printing as "19th-century thinking, 20th-century technology, and 21st-century market."
DIRECT-metal laser sintering (DMLS) technology was firstly proposed by Germany's Froounholfer Institute in 1995, and it is a rapid prototyping technique for metal powders that can be directly sintered into almost fully dense metal parts. The DMLS technology overcame the problem of the complicated process of manufacturing metal parts with traditional CNC technology. The laser beam rapidly melted the metal powder and obtained continuous melting path, which could directly obtain almost any shape, fully metallurgical joined, high-precision and almost dense metal parts.
Due to its unique advantages, DMLS technology is suitable for use in various fields such as automobiles, home appliances, power tools, machining, precision casting and craft production. As a result, DMLS metal 3D printing machines are rapidly developing, currently accounting for nearly half of the global metal 3D printing market.
China also has strong demand for metal 3D printing technology. Since the early 1990s, many colleges and universities in China have started research on metal rapid prototyping technology that has independent intellectual property rights. Currently, China's metal rapid prototyping technology still has a long way to go in terms of research teams, funding, and the scope of popularization.
The demand for metal 3D printing technology in China is robust, as evidenced by the early start of research on metal rapid prototyping technology in numerous colleges and universities since the 1990s, with a focus on developing independent intellectual property rights. However, there is still significant room for growth in terms of expanding research teams, securing funding, and promoting the widespread adoption of metal prototyping technology in China.
Comparatively, metal rapid prototyping technology in the Chinese Hong Kong and Taiwan region is more widely applied. Compared with the mainland Chinese region, the technology started earlier in Hong Kong and Taiwan, and many universities and enterprises have their own metal 3D printing equipment. However, the metal rapid prototyping technology in this region is mostly applied and promoted, not independently developed.