Repurposing – The Story of the 3D Printer

A history of the 3d printer

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By Elizabeth S.

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Have you ever heard of a 3-D printer? A 3-D printer is a machine that takes plastic “string” that’s on a roll, and melts it. The plastic goo is ejected through a tiny hole in a nozzle, which moves to create a super thin layer of a programed shape, before shifting upward the tiniest amount to create the next layer. Charles Hull is the man we can thank for creating this fantastic machine.

In the early 1980s, Charles “Chuck” Hull,  an engineer from Colorado, came up with his idea for a 3-D printer while he worked at a plant that produced UV lamps. The lamps were sold to factories that used them to harden a liquid plastic veneer onto tables, chairs and other furniture. He decided to ask his boss if he could use the shop to create his machine. According to a New York Times article in 2014, his boss denied him saying that the company made “UV lamps, not Star Trek replicators”. An argument ensued, but eventually they came to a compromise. Charles would continue his regular duties during the day but be able to use a private workspace freely after hours.

The next day, as soon as he finished his job, he headed to his borrowed workspace. Sitting there, as he pondered how to create his machine, his seed of an idea sprouted. He planned to take the plastic veneer and eject it through a nozzle where it would harden. His first couple machines were failures he had cobbled together out of found parts.  Multiple tries and many days later, he came out of with a machine that worked! Utilizing an ink jet printer nozzle, his machine whirred slowly, creating any shape it was programmed to produce. Creating anything took a long time because he had to program each layer so a minuscule cup was a major accomplishment.

From a room filling monstrosity to the petit desktop product we have today, we should say thank you to Charles Hull for the beginnings of astounding innovation. Chuck Hull was an amazing inventor, and because of him we can now create almost anything on a whim, with only a computer and a 3-D printer. Through arguments and through failures, his inspiration kept growing as he stayed true to himself, and created the wondrous device we have today.