Rock Stars of 3D Printing
by Robin Hegg
The IEEE Computer Society hosts a series of “Rock Star” events, highlighting new technology and presenting a panel of some of the major figures in the featured field. This past March, the IEEE Computer Society presented Rock Stars of 3D Printing, an event aimed at business and technology leaders, helping them to understand how the growth of 3D printing will be changing the ways they do business and to learn how they can put it to good use in their field.
One of IEEE’s own rock stars of 3D printing is IEEE member Charles Hull. In 1984, Hull developed a prototype system called stereolithography, in which ultraviolet light lasers are used to cure photopolymers. Photopolymers are polymers that change their properties when exposed to light. In this process, the ultraviolet light causes cross-links to form, bonding one polymer chain to another, making the material harden. These photopolymers are then added in layers to create a 3D object. Hull called it a “system for generating three-dimensional objects by creating a cross-sectional pattern of the object to be formed.” Hull’s other major contribution to the field of 3D printing is the design of the .STL file format and the digital slicing and infill method many 3D printers use today. These processes convert the 3D model into layers, using triangles to approximate the curves of a 3D object. The file that’s created gives the 3D printer a guide for how material should be laid out in order to build the final three-dimensional object.
In 1983, Hull printed a small cup in his lab using ultraviolet light and liquid plastic. Many industrial 3D printers still use this process today. Hull went on to found 3D Systems Corporation in 1986. Their first 3D printer hit the market in 1988, costing about $100,000.