From Pixels to Reality: Unravelling the Magic of 3D Printing.

By Samuel Kiragu

The captivating world of 3D printing, often referred to as additive printing, has been evolving for roughly four decades. The roots of this transformative technology can be traced back to an  American engineer, Charles W. Hull, in the 1980s. Hull’s groundbreaking concept,  stereolithography, marked the conception of 3D printing and introduced us to a realm where ideas are brought to reality layer by layer. Stereolithography stands as one of the earliest forms of 3D printing. This technique uses ultraviolet light to harden(cure) a photopolymer—a light sensitive liquid plastic—into intricate layers. The result is a three-dimensional object, each layer a testament to the precision and artistry embedded in the whole process. The 1990s witnessed the emergence of other groundbreaking techniques such as the Selective Laser Sintering (SLS)  and Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) offering new dimensions to materialize ideas. SLS, a  powder-based marvel, utilizes lasers to fuse materials like plastic and nylon powder into cohesive layers, crafting intricate 3D objects.  

My personal foray into 3D printing has been an exhilarating journey. The Fused Deposition  Modeling (FDM) technique, simple and versatile, proved to be a good choice. The process involves guiding a continuous filament of thermoplastic material—PLA (polylactic acid) and PET  (polyethylene terephthalate)—to meticulously build objects layer by layer. The tactile experience of handling filaments and witnessing creations materialize is nothing short of satisfying. In the African context, FDM has emerged as the go-to technique, finding widespread adoption. Its accessibility, ease of use, and diverse range of materials make it a convenient choice across the continent. Engaging with a 3D printer, manipulating filaments like PLA and  PET, and witnessing the transformation of digital designs into tangible objects is a satisfying and exhilarating experience. The art of 3D printing has not only reshaped industries but has also become a canvas for personal expression and creativity. 

It goes without saying that 3D printing is a disruptive technology that might soon replace early extractive methods of object creation such as sculpting.