National Inventors Hall of Fame
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Charles Hull
Stereolithography (3D Printing)
Patent No. 4,575,330

Charles Hull is the inventor of stereolithography, the first commercial rapid prototyping technology commonly known as 3D printing. The earliest applications of 3D printing were in research and development labs and tool rooms, but today 3D printing applications are seemingly endless. The technology has been used to create anything from sports shoes, aircraft components, and artificial limbs to artwork, musical instruments, and clothing.

Hull was developing lamps for UV-curable resins when he first came up with his idea for 3D printing. His method uses UV light to cure and bond a photopolymer resin which is built up layer by layer. In 1986, Hull co-founded 3D Systems to commercialize his technology, including the STL file format that allows CAD software data to be translated for 3D printers. Today, 3D Systems continues to innovate with a full line of professional and production 3D printers, advanced software solutions, and a broad materials portfolio, as well as consumer-friendly desktop 3D printers for the growing hobby and entrepreneur markets.

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.

Sources:

“Charles Hull Executive Profile” Bloomberg Business Week. Bloomberg Business Week. 18 March, 2014 http://investing.businessweek.com/research/stocks/people/person.asp?personId=308410&ticker=DDD.

Ponsford, Matthew, and Nick Glass. “The night I invented 3D printing” cnn.com. 14 Feb. 2014. CNN. 18 March 2014 http://www.cnn.com/2014/02/13/tech/innovation/the-night-i-invented-3d-printing-chuck-hall.

“The Journey of a Lifetime” 3dsystems.com. 3DSystems. 18 March 2004 http://www.3dsystems.com/30-years-innovation.

Hoffman, Tony. “3D Printing: What you Need to Know ” PCmag.com. 17 Oct. 2011. PC Magazine. 18 March 2004 http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2394722,00.asp.

Hessman, Travis. “Take 5: Q&A with Chuck Hull, Co-Founder, 3D Systems” IndustryWeek.com. 6 Nov 2013. Industry Week. 18 March 2014 http://www.industryweek.com/technology/take-5-qa-chuck-hull-co-founder-3d-systems.

Kennedy, Pagan. “Who Made That 3-D Printer?” nytimes.com. 22 Nov. 2013. The New York Times. 18 March 2014 http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/24/magazine/who-made-that-3-d-printer.html?_r=0.

“Charles W. Hull Co-Founder and Chief Technology Officer” 3dsystems.com. 3D Systems. 18 March 2014 http://www.3dsystems.com/files/downloads/3D-Systems-Charles-W-Hull-Executive-Bio.pdf.

Charles Hull was born and grew up in rural western Colorado. He moved to California in 1961, after he graduated from the University of Colorado, where he received a B.S. in Engineering Physics.

At the beginning of his career, Hull was an engineer at Bell & Howell and he later worked as an engineering manager at Dupont’s Photo Products Division, where he developed analytical equipment for chemists. It was while working at UVP Inc., then a small manufacturer of UV products, that Hull developed the idea that led to 3D printing.

As a design engineer at UVP, Hull experienced the obstacles of building prototypes to get testable plastic parts. The process was very costly and time consuming. A part designed and blueprinted would not be physically prototyped until weeks or months later, at which time he and other engineers would often find out that the part would have to be redesigned repeatedly before testing.  Hull decided he had the solution to this problem. While working at UVP, he made a deal with his manager: he would continue working toward the company’s main goals and products by day and would work after hours on his idea to develop a machine to speed up the prototyping process.

UVP produced UV lamps for the photopolymers that solidified when exposed to UV light that were used to provide tough coatings on furniture, and Hull began experimenting with these materials. A thin layer of the photopolymer resin would solidify when exposed by a UV laser. Hull realized that thousands of these thin layers would stack to create three-dimensional objects. The printer operated using special instructions that sliced the object into those thin layers as described by a special CAD/CAM file. Hull printed his first object, a small cup, on March 9, 1983, and immediately shared his accomplishment with his wife Anntionette. He called the method stereolithography and received his first patent on the process in 1986, the year he co-founded 3D Systems.

Hull didn’t expect his invention to immediately become “mainstream.” He knew it would take time for 3D printing to be recognized commercially and to be perfected. 3D Systems was the first company to commercialize 3D printing. This was used for rapid prototyping by combining 3D printing with computer-aided-design (CAD) software, enabled by the STL format – a now commonly used file format for 3D printing, also co-developed by Hull.

At first, selling the idea to manufacturers was not easy. Because it was initially impossible to carry the printer around the country for demonstrations when meeting with potential clients, Hull and his colleagues made home videos to demonstrate the 3D printing process.  Among the first industries interested were automotive manufacturers, but it did not take long until manufacturers in other industries found that they too could use 3D printing to make their processes more efficient.

Today, 3D printing is much more than a tool that speeds up model and prototyping in manufacturing. It also allows for customization and is frequently used to build consumer products and parts.  Additionally, professionals in a variety of fields recognize the potential and utility of 3D printing, creating artificial limbs, medical devices, artwork, aircraft components, and clothing.  Professionals in the culinary arts, forensics, architecture, archeology, and more, are also applying 3D printing in their fields.

Hull currently lives in Canyon Country, California, with his wife Anntionette. They have two children and two grandchildren. He holds more than 60 United States patents, as well as other patents around the world. After founding 3D Systems, Hull served as the company’s Chief Operating Officer and President from 1986 to 1999. Though Hull took a brief sabbatical in 1999, he continued to serve as 3D Systems’ vice chairman, a member of the Board of Directors and a consultant to the company. Hull has been 3D Systems’ Chief Technology Officer since 1997 and Executive Vice President since May 2000.

Education:

B.S. Engineering Physics, University of Colorado, 1961. He also received an honorary Doctorate degree in engineering from Loughborough University, United Kingdom, 2005.

Did you know?

Hull has been an active private pilot since 1973. He is an avid amateur photographer and videographer.

Best known for:

Hull is the inventor of 3D printing, also known as stereolithography.  His creation was the first commercially available rapid prototyping technology. 3D printing allows for prototypes, industrial design components, fashion and lifestyle accessories, and even medical devices to be created for use or review in a matter of hours.

Famous Quote:

“I’m not a futurist. I don’t have a crystal ball that tells me what things are going to happen, but I know this: when you get enough smart people working on something, it always gets better” – As quoted in Industry Week.

Awards:

Numerical Controls Society, Jacquard Award – 1994

The Rank Prize, the Rank Foundation, London – 1995

American Society of Mechanical Engineers, William T. Ennor Manufacturing Technology Award – 1996

Greater Los Angeles Area Ernst & Young, Entrepreneur of the Year Institute – 1996

Society of Manufacturing Engineers, Albert M. Sargent Progress Award – 1997

The Carolinas Area Ernst & Young, Entrepreneur of the Year Institute, with Avi Reichental – 2011

The George R. Stibitz Computer and Communications Award – 2013

Industry Week Manufacturing Hall of Fame, Class of 2013

Economist’s Innovation Award – 2013

Patent Number
Year
Name

4,575,330
1986
Apparatus for Production of Three- Dimensional Objects by Stereolithography
4,016,421
1977
Analytical Apparatus With Variable Energy Ion Beam Source
4,135,094
1979
Method And Apparatus for Rejuvenating Ion Sources
4,166,952
1979
Method And Apparatus for The Elemental Analysis Of Solids
4,929,402
1990
Method for Production of Three-Dimensional Objects by Stereolithography
4,999,143
1991
Methods And Apparatus for Production Of Three-Dimensional Objects by Stereolithography
5,059,359
1991
Methods and Apparatus for Production of Three-Dimensional Objects by Stereolithography
5,104,592
1992
Method of and Apparatus for Production Of Three-Dimensional Objects By Stereolithography With Reduced Curl
5,130,064
1992
Method of Making a Three Dimensional Object by Stereolithography
5,137,662
1992
Methods and Apparatus for Production of Three-Dimensional Objects by Stereolithography
5,174,943
1992
Method for production of three-dimensional objects by stereolithography
5,182,055
1993
Method of Making a Three Dimensional Object by Stereolithography
5,184,307
1993
Method and apparatus for production of high resolution three-dimensional objects by stereolithography
5,192,559
1993
Apparatus for building three-dimensional objects with sheets
5,234,636
1993
Methods of coating stereolithographic parts
5,236,637
1993
Method of and apparatus for production of three dimensional objects by stereolithography
5,248,456
1993
Method and apparatus for cleaning stereolithographically produced objects
5,256,340
1993
Method of making a three-dimensional object by stereolithography
5,273,691
1993
Stereolithographic curl reduction
5,344,298
1994
Apparatus for making three-dimensional objects by stereolithography
5,345,391
1994
Method and apparatus for production of high resolution three-dimensional objects by stereolithography
5,447,822
1995
Apparatus and related method for forming a substantially flat stereolithographic working surface
5,554,336
1996
Method and apparatus for production of threedimensional objects by stereolithography
5,556,590
1996
Apparatus for Production of Three- Dimensional Objects by Stereolithography
5,569,431
1996
Method and Apparatus for Production of Three- Dimensional Objects by Stereolithography
5,571,471
1996
Method of production of three-dimensional objects by stereolithography
5,573,722
1996
Method and Apparatus for Production of Three- Dimensional Objects by Stereolithography
5,597,520
1997
Simultaneous Multiple Layer Curing in Stereolithography
5,609,812
1997
Method of Making a Three-Dimensional Objects by Stereolithography
5,609,813
1997
Method of Making a Three-Dimensional Objects by Stereolithography
5,630,981
1997
Method for Production of Three-Dimensional Objects by Stereolithography
5,637,169
1997
Method of Building Three Dimensional Objects with Sheets
5,651,934
1997
Recoating of Stereolithographic Layers
5,711,911
1998
Methods And Apparatus for Making a Three- Dimensional Objects by Stereolithography
5,762,856
1998
Method for Production of Three-Dimensional Objects by Stereolithography
5,772,947
1998
Stereolithographic Curl Reduction
5,779,967
1998
Methods And Apparatus for Production of Three-Dimensional Objects by Stereolithography
5,785,918
1998
Methods And Apparatus for Production of Three-Dimensional Objects by Stereolithography
5,814,265
1998
Methods And Apparatus for Production of Three-Dimensional Objects by Stereolithography
5,855,836
1999
Method for selective deposition modeling
5,870,307
1999
Method and Apparatus for Production of High Resolution Three-Dimensional Objects by Stereolithography
5,891,382
1999
Recoating of Stereolithographic Layers
5,902,537
1999
Rapid Recoating of Three-Dimensional Objects Formed on a Cross-Sectional Basis
5,989,476
1999
Process of Making a Molded Refractory Article
6,027,324
2000
Apparatus for Production of Three Dimensional Objects by Stereolithography
6,036,911
2000
Method of Making a Three-Dimensional Object by Stereolithography
6,048,188
2000
Stereolithographic Curl Reduction
6,048,487
2000
Recoating Stereolithographic Layers
6,133,355
2000
Selective Deposition Modeling Materials and Method
6,153,312
2000
Apparatus and Methods for Economically Fabricating Molded Refractory Articles Using Refractory Mix Displacing Elements
6,193,923
2001
Selective Deposition Modeling Method and Apparatus for Forming Three-Dimensional Objects and Supports
6,224,816
2001
Molding Method, Apparatus, and Device Including Use of Powder Metal Technology for Forming a Molding Tool with Thermal Control Elements
6,261,507
2001
Method of and Apparatus for Making a Three- Dimensional Object by Stereolithography
6,264,873
2001
Method of Making a Three-Dimensional Object by Stereolithography
6,270,335
2001
Selective Deposition Modeling Method and Apparatus for Forming Three-Dimensional Objects and Supports
6,366,825
2002
Simultaneous Multiple Layer Curing in Stereolithography
6,399,010
2002
Method and Apparatus for Stereolithographically Forming Three Dimensional Objects with Reduced Distortion
6,508,971
2003
Selective Deposition Modeling Method and Apparatus for Forming Three-Dimensional Objects and Supports
6,600,965
2003
Method and Apparatus for Production of High Resolution Three-Dimensional Objects by Stereolithography
6,656,410
2003
Recoating System for Using High Viscosity Build Materials in Solid Freeform Fabrication
6,660,209
2003
Selective Deposition Modeling Method and Apparatus for Forming Three-Dimensional Objects and Supports
7,077,638
2006
Selective Deposition Modeling Method and Apparatus for Forming Three-Dimensional Objects and Supports
D575,313
2008
Build Platform
7,614,866
2009
Solid Imaging Apparatus and Method
7,706,910
2010
Imager Assembly and Method for Solid Imaging
7,731,887
2010
Method for Removing Excess Uncured Build Material in Solid Imaging
7,758,799
2010
Edge Smoothness with Low Resolution Projected Images for Use in Solid Imaging
7,771,183
2010
Solid Imaging System with Removal of Excess Uncured Build Material
7,785,093
2010
Stereolithographic Apparatus
7,906,061
2011
Bubble-Free Cross-Sections for Use in Solid Imaging
8,003,039
2011
Method for Tilting Solid Image Build Platform for Reducing Air Entrainment and for Build Release
8,046,097
2011
Region-Based Supports for Parts Produced by Solid Freeform Fabrication
8,048,359
2011
Compensation of Actinic Radiation Intensity Profiles for Three-Dimensional Modelers
8,105,066
2012
Cartridge for Solid Imaging Apparatus and Method
8,221,671
2012
Imager and Method for Consistent Repeatable Alignment in a Solid Imaging Apparatus
8,285,411
2012
Region-Based Supports for Parts Produced by Solid Freeform Fabrication
8,465,689
2013
Elevator and Method for Tilting Solid Image Build Platform for Reducing Air Entrainment and for Build Release

Occupation: Co-Founder and Chief Technology Officer of 3D Systems

Born: May 12, 1939, in Clifton, Colorado

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