For the Al: Charles Hull

L to R: New Chuck Hull, Diet Chuck Hull, Classic Chuck Hull

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

Just think about this: 3D printing is revolutionizing all kinds of things, and is going to revolutionize them far more in the coming generation. It’s literally the replicator from Star Trek TNG, just not quite as fast and versatile yet. And you have no idea who invented it.

Or you didn’t, until you read this post!

Technically it’s “stereolithography.” Did I mention that it’s literally the replicator from Star Trek? People keep saying things like, “it’s 2020, where are my hovercars?” But this is better.

Chuck Hull produced the first-ever 3D printed part (above) in 1983. He got the idea while using UV light to harden the coating on tabletops. If you can harden plastic quickly with high precision using a concentrated beam of UV light, all you have to do is aim the light at a vat of liquid plastic and then use it to “draw” the object you want. He had a patent on the process by 1984, founding his company, 3D Systems – which he still co-runs – in 1986. Publicly disclosed salary information suggests that, like Al Copeland, he’s doing okay.

And rightly so! Check out some of the applications that have already emerged:

  • Rapid replication of drones to deliver supplies to disaster areas
  • Affordable housing: a 600-800 foot house can be 3D-printed in less than 24 hours for $4,000
  • Prosthetic limbs just got super cheap
  • Optimized aircraft parts save fuel and pollution
  • Replenishing coral reefs
  • Bioprinted” human organs
  • Restoring/rebuilding priceless cultural artifacts and architecture
A rapidly replicated drone for disaster relief
A $4,000 house
No need to lend this guy a hand

The early days of the pandemic were filled with 3D printing stories:

Maybe Hull can team up with Al winner Pete DeComo to make sure there won’t have to be any more midnight runs across the border for lung machines!

That’s just the first fruits. The long term will be much bigger. Even though scholarly articles lag real-time production of knowledge, a search in Google Scholar for “impact of 3D printing” produces 758,000 hits. Page one includes these titles:

  • The Impact of 3D Printing Technologies on Business Model Innovation
  • The Impact of 3D Printing Technology on Society and the Economy
  • Current and Future Impact of 3D Printing on the Separation Sciences
  • The Impact of 3D Printing Technology on the Supply Chain
  • The Impact of 3D Printing on Transport and Society
  • Evaluation of 3D Printing and Its Potential Impact on Biotechnology and the Chemical Sciences
  • Impact of 3D Printing on Spare Parts Logistics

That’s page one.

And…as for the even longer term…did I mention….?

In 2011 I wrote, “this finding’s been replicated more often than Picard’s Earl Grey,” and it’s still one of my favorite gags in 12 long years of gag-heavy JPGBing.

Thanks for inventing the Star Trek future, Chuck.

Image HTs: Top, 1st printed part, drone, house, arm

One Response to For the Al: Charles Hull

  1. matthewladner says:

    Strong nominee!

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