Patent of the Month in September
35 Years of 3D Printing
Computer-aided production of three-dimensional objects, 3D printing for short, is mostly considered to be a very recent technological development. However, the first patent appeared 35 years ago! It had been developed by the engineer Charles "Chuck" Hull. He filed the patent application for the world's first 3D printer under US4575330 in 1984 - our patent of the month in September.
At the beginning of the 1980s, the American inventor Hull has had the idea of solidifying liquid plastic using UV light. At that time, plastic had only been used for surface coating.
Three-dimensional objects were produced additively using so-called stereolithography. In this process, individual layers of a 3D model were projected onto the surface of a liquid photopolymer by means of a laser, which solidified after a certain exposure time.
Hull therefore is referred to as the "father of 3D printing"; stereolithography as the "mother of all 3D printing processes". For the first time, it was possible to produce new plastic moulds that were previously inconceivable with material-removing tools.
Two further successful 3D printing methods followed in the later 1980s. In 1986 Carl R. Deckard applied for a patent for "Selective Laser Sintering or SLS Printing” (US5017753). Today it is the most frequently used additive process. The printing material is given in powder form, the individual layers are fused under protective atmosphere with a high-performance laser (CO2 laser).
Scrott Crump followed a couple of years later and applied for a patent in 1989 for the "Fused Deposition Modeling Process” or short FDM (US5017753). The technology is based on the melting of a plastic (usually ABS or PLA), which is then applied in layers. It is also known as "melt layering" or "nozzle melting process" and is used very frequently, too.
However, the boom of 3D printing in industrial production, model making or research did not start until 2010, that is more than two decades later. One reason for this is that the technical maturity of the additive processes has taken time. What's more, the trend has been fuelled by the expiry of patent protection for 3D printing after the usual 20 years. The inventions were thus freely usable, license fees were no longer charged.
The Patent- und Normenzentrum Aachen wishes an inspiring autumn!
"From the idea to the product" – the Patent Information Centre of the RWTH Aachen University offers services close to praxis for researchers, entrepreneurs, craftsmen, founders and inventors!
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