Early Development

In the earliest commercial development, Willème's photosculpture studio was commercially successful from 1861 to 1868 but eventually went out of business, probably due to the labor involved in hand sculpting with a pantographic (tracing) instrument. The next known commercial attempt was Swainson's formation of Formagraphic Engine Company in 1977. Formagraphic later formed an alliance with Battelle Laboratories and changed its name to Omtec Replication. It appears that this effort was abandoned before a commercial process was developed. Also in 1977, DiMatteo formed an company called Solid Photography that was spun out of Dynell Electronics Corporation when Dynell merged with United Technologies. As a result, an affiliated retail outlet called Sculpture by Solid Photography was opened in New York City (Fig. 3.13). In 1981, Solid Photography changed its name to Robotic Vision. Solid Photography and the company Solid Copier operated as subsidiaries of Robotic Vision until 1989 (Lightman 1996).

Fig. 3.13. Sculpture by Solid Photography process (Bogart 1979; photos courtesy of Soho Image Works [no longer in business]).

U.S. Development

As Table 3.2 shows, the first commercial rapid prototyping machine was introduced in 1988 by 3D Systems when it shipped the SLA-1 to three customers.

Table 3.2
U.S. Commercial Development of RP Systems

European and Japanese Development

Table 3.3 shows the chronology for commercial development of rapid prototyping processes in Europe and Japan. As can be seen by comparing these charts, the United States has led the way in commercialization of new rapid prototyping equipment. Also, it can be seen that in the United States there are many different types of technology, while in Japan, with the exception of Kira, all the Japanese vendors use laser photopolymer techniques. There is only one U.S. laser photopolymer company that is presently shipping equipment: 3D Systems.

Table 3.3
European and Japanese Commercial Development of RP Systems

Fig. 3.14 shows an overall chronology of rapid mechanical prototyping. This chronology indicates some but not all of the major time events in the field.

Fig. 3.14. Rapid prototyping chronology.
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Published: March 1997; WTEC Hyper-Librarian