30 years ago Chuck Hull invented stereolithography (SLA) and with that came the industry that our magazine is entirely dedicated to, 3D printing. At CES 2016 Chuck's legacy fills the entire marketplace but you'd be hugely mistaken if you think that doesn't mean the great man and his company are not still innovating at the top of their game.
Todd Grimm pointed me towards something on the 3D Systems stand that he said may go unseen by the passing public, in fact one person in the industry I spoke to today thought it was merely an application demonstration. On the contrary the SLA Bot-1 might just be the most revolutionary thing out of 3D Systems since the first SLA 1.
"This (The SLA Bot-1) is really just a demo of some new technology we’ve got coming," explained Scott Turner, Sr Researcher at 3D Systems "What we have underneath is what we’re calling codename: Figure 4. If you look at Chuck Hull’s original patent it had an image of how to do stereolithography upside down printing through a membrane, that’s what this machine is doing at really high speeds."
That membrane Scott mentions is key to fast SLA 3D printing, fast is all the rage at the minute what with Carbon3D and companies like Newpro 3D (who both use DLP technology) and both use a sort of membrane in order to speed up that process.
SLA Bot prints
SLA Bot prints
The SLA Bot-1 or Figure 4 is forming shapes in front of my eyes as Scott talks me through the process, the torso model in the above picture took 24 minutes to print, yes I said minutes.
"The Figure 4 is a real high-speed stereolithography process the reason we want to do that is we can get into hybrid materials. Those hybrid materials can have multi-mode polymerisation so we can have elastomerics, we can have toughened parts because we can use other energy sources to do secondary polymerisation," says Scott.
It is clear that Chuck is still very active at 3D Systems and I believe that he has been a huge part of this new innovation. It was interesting to see Chuck watching on at the 3D Printing Conference yesterday as companies like Voxel8, Carbon 3D and HP discussed how they're going to revolutionise the industry when he knows full well that he has already done it once and might have something up his sleeve to do it again.
The SLA Bot-1 concept is a work in progress, not a finished product so as yet there's no release dates. "We’re working with some key customers in particular verticals to kind of map out the exact specifics of how we make it readily available but the materials is the really interesting part.
"We want to show is that it is not a machine," says Scott. "It is a module that you can integrate into your particular manufacturing environment. Here we’re demonstrating it with a six-axis off the shelf robotic arm and not only is the robotic arm picking up parts when they’re done, relocating them, it is actually part of the building process lifting up the tray as the imager is firing and creating the object.
2015 was a tough year for 3D Systems falling stock prices, a departing CEO and the ceasing production on a range of other machinery but if the SLA Bot-1 is anything to go by 2016 is going to be an exciting year indeed.