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The Early Days of 3D Printing

Ozy has written a ‘flashback’ concerning the very early days of 3D printing.

Bill Masters demonstrates an idea, which crossed his mind back in 1976, when he was looking up at the night sky: “what if those stars stuck together like spitballs stuck together?  Then you can build something out of it – but you need a seed point.”

This became a launch pad for Masters, who eventually developed a 3D printing patent in 1984 – “before some of the most celebrated pioneers in what has become a $6 billion industry filed their own 3D printing patents.”

These days, however, Masters is far more well known for his kayak creations, which he sold under his Perception Kayaks brand.  Masters sold his first professionally crafted kayak back in the 70s, and since then Perception Kayaks “rapidly expanded and grabbed ‘the lion’s share’ of the U.S. market in white-water boating in the 1980s.”  In 1998 Masters sold the company for an undisclosed sum.

At the same time, Masters also attempted to commercialize his 3D printing concept.  He launched “a dedicated company to work on its research and development.  He worked with a team to test a process, which successfully used one of his Rotary Club lapel pins as inspiration to produce a small gear made from plastics.  But when investors got involved, Masters says, they went in their own direction and wanted to use a more complicated method that didn’t have enough computing or software power.”

There were other problems too.  As Masters explains, “I got diluted and lost control of the patent.  For eight long years, the company was plagued with ongoing technical problems and a lack of strong management and direction.”  This led, inevitably, to that company closing its doors.

And the rest, they say is history.  Chuck Hull, the founder of 3D Systems, who was dubbed ‘the father of 3D printing’ by The Guardian began making huge inroads in the industry, while S. Scott and Lisa Crump founded Stratasys.  Both these companies now rule the roost when it comes to additive manufacturing.  Other entrepreneurs such as Ross Housholder and Hideo Kodama also filed proto-patents for 3D printing-like technologies.

As Intellectual Property law firm Finnegan, Henderson, Farabow, Garrett & Dunner partner John F. Hornick concludes, however, figuring out just who invented 3D printing is a murky business: “Three-dimensional printing is an umbrella term for several types of additive manufacturing technologies.  Comparing patent-filing dates may be like comparing apples and oranges.”

Image and Quotes Courtesy of Ozy

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