3D printers have gone from relative obscurity to being sold in major chain stores like Staples seemingly overnight.
But bringing a technology first conceived in the 1980's into average consumer's homes has been a much longer process. Large, difficult to use machines with enormous costs have been streamlined dramatically in the past 3 or so years, through extensive testing and developing.
While many international 3D printing companies seem to be appearing every month, the market leaders and key developers of this technology are born in the USA. Below, we take a look at some of the biggest and most influential companies from the USA that have been responsible for the rise in popularity of 3D printing.
The once barren landscape of 3D printing is now flourishing with new companies and fresh ideas entering the fold almost weekly, but the beginnings of 3D printing started nearly 30 years ago in 1986 on the west coast of California. Those first pioneers formed the company we now know as 3D Systems and, along with the other big two players (Stratasys and MakerBot), have pushed 3D printing out of the world of science fiction and increasingly into the homes of everyday users. Each of the big three have played a different and (some might say equally) important role in the development and perpetuation of 3D printing.
While 3D Systems were there at the very beginning, makers of industrial 3D printers, Stratasys, were a mere 3 years off the pace and have become the market leaders in professional and industrial 3D printers and rapid prototypers. They make the biggest of the big when it comes to additive manufacturing, but due to their highly professional series of products, they are not as widely known in the home user market.
Their main rivals, 3D Systems, have managed to walk the line of professional/enthusiast somewhat better. They have managed to compete with Stratasys in the industrial market, but have also made a number of increasingly popular home printers.
Without a doubt, MarkerBot have been the ones to really bring 3D printers into the hands of home users. Continuing from the open source RepRap project, MakerBot has managed to keep the cost of their printers relatively low, while maintaining a high level of build quality to their products. They have also been adopted by the ‘maker' community as the cult favorite 3D printer manufacturers.
Headquarters: Rock Hill, South Carolina
Founded: Valencia, California – 1986
Founder: Charles “Chuck” Hull
3D Systems, headquartered in Rock Hill, South Carolina, is a global, integrated solutions 3D printing company specializing in 3D printers, print materials, professional and consumer custom-parts services and 3D imaging and customization software. Its products are meant to make manufacturing processes more efficient, without requiring tooling. 3D Systems creates product concept models, precision, and master patterns for tooling, as well as production parts for direct digital manufacturing. 3D Systems uses proprietary processes to fabricate physical objects using input from computer-aided design and manufacturing software, or 3D scanning and sculpting devices. 3D Systems' technologies and services are used in the design, development and production stages of many industries, including aerospace, automotive, architecture, health care, dental, entertainment, recreation and consumer goods. 3D Systems offers professional and production-grade 3D printers, in addition to a line of personal 3D printers and 3D-printed consumer products, supported by the affiliated online forum Cubify. 3D Systems is notable within the 3D printing industry for developing stereolithography and the STL file format.
Headquarters: Edina, Minnesota
Founded: Eden Prairie, Minnesota – 1989
Founder: S. Scott Crump
Stratasys, Ltd. is a manufacturer of 3D printers and 3D production systems for office-based rapid prototyping and direct digital manufacturing solutions. Engineers use Stratasys systems to model complex geometries in a wide range of thermoplastic materials, including ABS, polyphenylsulfone (PPSF), polycarbonate (PC) and ULTEM 9085.
Stratasys manufactures in-office prototyping and direct digital manufacturing systems for automotive, aerospace, industrial, recreational, electronic, medical and consumer product OEMs.
Stratasys was founded in 1989 by S. Scott Crump and his wife Lisa Crump in Eden Prairie, Minnesota. The idea for the technology came to Crump in 1988 when he decided to make a toy frog for his young daughter using a glue gun loaded with a mixture of polyethylene and candle wax. He thought of creating the shape layer by layer and of a way to automate the process. In April 1992, Stratasys sold its first product, the 3D modeller.
Headquarters: Brooklyn, New York
Founded: January 2009
Founders: Bre Pettis, Adam Mayer, and Zach “Hoeken” Smith
Founded in 2009, Brooklyn-based MakerBot has grown to be the global leader in desktop 3D printing. MakerBot had 16 percent market share of all 3D printers (industrial and personal) made from 2009 to the end of 2011. In 2011, MakerBot had 21.6 percent market share. In 2012, MakerBot estimates that it now has a 25 percent market share of the overall 3D printer market. There are more than 15,000 MakerBot Desktop 3D Printers in use by engineers, designers, researchers, and people who just like to make things.