Chuck Hull is the co-founder, executive vice president and chief technology officer of 3D Systems. He is one of the inventors of the SLA 3D printer, the first commercial rapid prototyping technology and the widely used STL file format. The first 3D printer, which used the stereolithography technique, was created by Charles W. Stereolithography has traditionally been an expensive commercial technique, with machines costing five and even six figures, but recent years have seen the emergence of professional desktop stereolithography printers with a cost of a few thousand dollars, as well as consumer systems that start with much less than a thousand dollars.
The story that everyone understands now is that of the two founders of the giant 3D printing companies, 3D Systems and Stratasys. In August 1984, Charles Hull patented what would become the SLA process, and in the 3D Systems process it grew to become the current giant. Similarly, we'll see 3D printers at Antarctic bases and other remote locations on Earth, where people can't wait six months for the next refueling to replace essential parts or tools. Designers use 3D printers to quickly create models and prototypes of products, but they are also increasingly used to manufacture final products.
True to its occupation at the time, Hull's initial invention worked with finely printed layers of ultraviolet curable materials stacked on top of each other. The general public was not yet familiar with 3D printing technology, but there were many others who were. Although printing is only part of the process, most people prefer to use the term “3D printing” when talking about technology in general. They then upload these files to the printer to produce real physical 3D objects, layer by layer.
In 1986 he filed his patent application for the technology, and in 1988 he founded 3D Systems Corporation. While the Hull patent covered many aspects of 3D printing, including design and operation software, techniques and a variety of materials, other inventors would rely on the concept with different approaches. For those who are not willing to create their own 3D files, 3D object databases, such as MakerBot's Thingiverse (Opens in a new window), offer numerous 3D object files that can be downloaded and printed. And the other main difference is that 3D printing has to go through many printing cycles, or layers, to produce a physical object.
From a practical point of view, 3D printing can save money and material compared to subtractive techniques, since very little raw material is wasted. MakerBot's new Classroom product is poised to significantly revolutionize the 3D printing education market due to its features, price and, most importantly, how it was designed and implemented. Although his role laid the foundation for 3D printing, he was not the first to build a 3D printer.