by Chuck Hull

Thirty-four years ago I filed a patent for the stereolithography process. My vision included a high-speed 3D printing method that used a small amount of photopolymer in a tray. The idea was captured in Figure 4 of that patent.

34 years ago Chuck Hull filed a patent for what we now call the Figure 4 3D printer

Flash ahead to the present: My presentation at AMUG 2018 will show how that vision has come to fruition, leveraging the latest material science and image processing techologies to provide performance and productivity that I could never have foreseen.

Figure 4 Production, now available to manufacturers worldwide, is the industry's first modular, scalable, fully integrated direct 3D production platform. It's designed to help manufacturers bridge the chasm between rapid prototyping and comprehensive digital manufacturing.

What has made it happen

It's appropriate that AMUG is the stage for ushering Figure 4 into today's manufacturing world because it harkens back to the origins of 3D printing: AMUG was founded 30 years ago to continue the information exchange among 3D Systems' first five beta users.

Figure 4 is not a new concept nor a single invention. It stems from a three-decade confluence of technology innovation, material science, and most of all people like you -- the AMUG community of users who suffer the slings and arrows to bring additive technology into the challenging world of manufacturing.

Several technological developments have made Figure 4 Production possible:

  • Continuous advances in SLA technology, materials and software.
  • Material science innovations for the new generation of 3D printing plastics that can replicate and replace thermoplastic parts.
  • Superior non-contact membrane technology that ensures printed material will never adhere to the imaging window, thereby extending the life of the membrane itself.
  • An exclusive DLP-based UV imaging  system and software for real-time, closed-loop process control of surface finishes.
  • Digitally generated texturing that delivers a never-seen-before aesthetic quality and complexity not possible with tooled processes.
  • Industry-leading printing speeds by combining fast-printed materials, higher-powered UV imaging systems, an adaptive optimized printing process, modular arrays of printing modules, and full automation of large arrays of print engines to manage all the processes.
The Figure 4 Production 3D printer for factory plastic production

How Figure 4 works for manufacturing

Figure 4 comprises an array of super-fast DLP-powered print engines connected by robotic automation. It produces hundreds or thousands of parts without the need for human intervention. Printed parts are moved swiftly from the resin trays through to washing, drying and curing operations to produce a finished part.

Digital inspection can be integrated into Figure 4 modules, enabling 3D data capture required to leverage the highest level of Industry 4.0 practices. Figure 4 technology is massively scalable and can operate within a manufacturer's automated production lines.

Fulfillment of promises

Figure 4 delivers a fresh new path to producing parts without the time-consuming and tedious tooling that has been at the center of the manufacturing world for 150 years. The new processes can lower costs by 20% while providing 15X greater throughput for finished parts. Figure 4 is capable of manufacturing parts in hybrid photopolymer materials that offer toughness, durability, biocompatibility, high-temperature deflection, and even elastomeric properties.

A Figure 4 system can integrate directly into traditional production environments to provide greater manufacturing flexibility, especially for mass-customized products or no minimum order quantities (MOQ). The ability to manufacture parts "just-in-time" can further save time and money by eliminating parts warehousing.

A real case study

At AMUG, we'll give you a glimpse into one of the first implementations of Figure 4 in the aerospace industry. The project includes these highly desirable characteristics:

  • An additive production platform designed to meet supply demands for low-criticality, high-need components.
  • The ability to efficiently and cost-effectively manufacture parts no longer available from original suppliers.
  • Cheaper, much faster production of single- or low-run parts.
  • Just-in-time part production and inventory elimination.

Meet me at AMUG

Please join me to delve deeper into the journey of developing Figure 4 and discovering its potential in manufacturing environments throughout the world. I want to share this with you, because you helped make it happen.

Manufacturing Redefined: Figure 4 in the Real World

April 10, 2018, 1:30 - 2:30 p.m., Grand Ballroom F

AMUG 2018, St. Louis, Missouri, USA

Chuck Hull is the co-founder, executive vice president and chief technology officer of 3D Systems. He is the inventor of SLA 3D printing and the STL file format, holding more than 85 rapid prototyping and ion optics patents. Hull was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2014.