[Worldkings] Top 100 pioneers in all fields (P. 80) Charles Hull (USA): The inventor of the world's first 3D printer


(Worldkings.org) Chuck Hull invented stereolithography, also known as 3D printing. His innovation changed the printing industry forever and opened new doors to revolutionize various fields such as automobile manufacturing, aerospace, medical printing, and so on.

Chuck Hull (Charles W. Hull; born May 12, 1939) is the co-founder, executive vice president and chief technology officer of 3D Systems. He is the inventor of stereolithography, the first commercial rapid prototyping technology commonly known as 3D printing. The earliest applications were in research and development labs and tool rooms, but today 3D printing applications are seemingly endless. The technique has been used to create anything from sports shoes, aircraft components, and artificial limbs to artwork, musical instruments, and clothing.


In 1983, he was working for a company that used UV light to put thin layers of plastic veneers on tabletops and furniture. Like others within the industry, he was frustrated that the production of small plastic parts for prototyping new product designs could take up to two months.

He had an idea that if he could place thousands of thin layers of plastic on top of each other and then etch their shape using light, he would be able to form three dimensional objects. After a year of tinkering with ideas in a backroom lab after hours, he developed a system where light was shone into a vat of photopolymer – a material which changes from liquid to plastic-like solid when light shines on it – and traces the shape of one level of the object. Subsequent layers are then printed until it is complete.

After patenting the invention in 1986, he set up 3D Systems in order to commercialise the new method of production. The first commercial product came out in 1988 and proved a hit among car manufacturers, in the aerospace sector and for companies designing medical equipment.


Soon General Motors and Mercedes-Benz were using 3D Systems' technology to build prototypes, but it was developments in medicine that stunned him, such as when models in advance of surgery could be created. "That was just startling to me, that someone used the technology like that."

When Hull originally came up with his invention, he told his wife that it would take between 25 and 30 years before the technology would find its way into the home. That prediction proved correct as the realistic prospect of widespread commercial 3D printers has only emerged in recent years.

The possibilities appear endless – from home-printed food and pharmaceuticals to suggestions that pictures of ceramics will be able to be taken in shops and then recreated using plans downloaded from the internet.

Hull, who received his degree in engineering physics from the University of Colorado, is also the recipient of The Economist's Innovation Award for his pioneering role in 3D printing technology.


According to theguardian.com & invent.org 

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