Selective Laser Sintering High Temperature Workstation

University of Texas engineers are innovators in additive manufacturing

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In the 1980s, University of Texas at Austin engineering student Carl Deckard and his advisor Dr. Joe Beaman developed and patented a type of additive manufacturing called selective laser sintering (SLS). Commonly called 3D printing, UT’s Department of Mechanical Engineering has been an innovator in additive manufacturing ever since.

Additive manufacturing creates three-dimensional objects from computer models by adding together layers of a material. SLS does this by fusing together layers of plastic, ceramic, or metal powder using heat from a laser. This technology cuts out the need for expensive and time-intensive molds and creates incredibly complex parts in a single piece.

The first SLS machine, nicknamed Betsy, was completed in 1987. The cube (shown above) was the first product with a recognizable, complex 3D shape printed by Betsy. It was shown to the patent committee to illustrate SLS’s potential and viability. Even distribution of the plastic powder and leveling was a challenge with Betsy, which is why this cube has an uneven top edge.

Deckard and fellow UT student Paul Forderhase completed a second-generation machine, Bambi, in 1989. Bambi incorporated two innovations for the SLS process — preheating the printing chamber to stop product curling and adding a roller to level each layer of powder. These additions allowed the team to print more complex things (like the gear shown above), and opened the door to printing casting patterns and functioning prototypes.

One of the goals when developing SLS was to directly print metal parts. From 1990 to 1998, UT Austin student Suman Das developed two processes and the related machines (like the high temperature workstation above) to manufacture parts from titanium and superalloys. The aerospace industry is one of the biggest markets for SLS today because it can print complex, high-performance metal parts.

The University of Texas at Austin remains a leader in SLS today, continuing to refine the process and find new uses.

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Selective Laser Sintering High Temperature Workstation Artifact from Austin
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