The Journey of a Lifetime

Think back for a moment - where were you 30 years ago when one of the most important advances of our time was invented?

In terms of technology, 1983 was a pretty exciting year. It was in 1983 that CDs and camcorders were introduced to the general public. In another breakthrough technology development, 1983 was also the year that Charles 'Chuck' Hull invented stereolithography and subsequently in 1986 founded 3D Systems. While this innovation has not been as widely recognised by the general population as CDs and camcorders, its impact on our lives has been profound.

When Stereolithography was developed there was no such thing as rapid prototyping - creating a concept model, let alone a functional prototype, took months and cost thousands of dollars. And while designers and engineers were using computer aided design and manufacturing software there was no method for that software to communicate to what became the very first Rapid Prototyping System, SLA 1. So Chuck and 3D Systems also developed the .stl file format, still in use today, to complete the electronic 'handshake' from the CAD software and transmit files for the printing of 3D objects.

Continued invention was required to push the technology further into full commercial use. Chuck and his team had to overcome several challenging problems as they grappled with hydrodynamics and chemistry. One of the more pressing issues was actually the imaging technology. The lasers that supported the appropriate UV wavelength required substantial power supplies and water cooling towers. This added burden of space, time and cost - over and above the core system - limited the market potential. Then, when solid state lasers became an option, issues of wavelength compatibility persisted so Chuck took another calculated risk and reformulated the materials to launch the first Solid State Stereolithography System in 1996.

We are excited by, and committed to, democratising access to 3D printing for both the non-expert professional user and the hobbyist/consumer market over time. This means that we will need to play a major role in collaborating, developing and delivering 3D content tools that allow a non-technical person to capture, create, share and print their 3D files. Chuck is still energised by any opportunity to push the technology envelope. With over 400 patents and 6 print engines, our years of expertise and myriad materials can be brought to bear on any application challenge. And, through our customers, the true pioneers, we've learned that it's the applications that have established our leadership in the market.