The 3D printing process selective laser sintering (SLS) has only been enjoying growing attention for a few years. However, the technology behind it dates back to the 1980s and has its origins in Texas.

As early as the beginning of his studies at the University of Texas in the early 1980s, the idea of producing molds directly from CAD data grew in young Carl R. Deckard (born 1961). At the time, he was working for TRW Mission in Houston, where he first came into contact with the novel design software. The idea of fusing powder particles using a directed energy beam came to him in 1984 at the end of his bachelor’s degree.

Together with his professor and later research partner Joe Beaman, Deckard developed selective laser sintering and filed a patent application for his invention in October 1986. The first working SLS machine was christened Betsy. It initially produced only small cubes of plastic, but this was enough to demonstrate the potential of the process.

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First laser sintering systems at the beginning of the 1990s

Deckard gradually optimized his technology. He found that the even application of the powder material had a significant influence on the success of the sintering process. By 1986, the SLS method had been developed to the point where the first objects could be used as molds for actual tool parts. That same year, Deckard, along with Dr. Paul F. McClure and entrepreneur Harold Blair, founded Nova Automation to further the commercial development of selective laser sintering. In 1989, Nova Automation became DTM.

Soon after, the company partnered with aerospace company Goodrich, whose financial support enabled the first commercial Mod A and Mod B laser sintering systems to be manufactured in 1992. Due to a lack of financial success, Goodrich sold its shares in DTM to the ProActive Finance investment group in 1999. Two years later, DTM finally went to 3D Systems, which at the time specialized in stereolithography and was the market leader in additive manufacturing.

Established process in a wide range of industries

Currently, selective laser sintering continues to grow beyond its niche existence in prototype construction. Thanks to highly functional materials and optimized production processes, laser-sintered components are suitable for the manufacture of market-ready products in a wide range of industries.