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The Father of 3D Printing

A number of highly respected engineers have claimed or received credit for being the inventor of 3D printing. However, as patents on file with the USPTO make clear, Bill Masters filed the first patent for this additive manufacturing technology, the Computer Automated Manufacturing Process and System, on July 2, 1984.

Shoot drops. Make parts

All 3D printing uses a laminate structure and slicing algorithm to layer material. 80% of today’s 3D printing technologies work with extrusion, including stereo lithography, which layers resin cured by UV light.

Bill started work on his new manufacturing process in the early 80s, comparing the idea to using a straw to deposit “spit wads.” As he put it, “When you shoot a lot of wads, they begin to take shape. If you can control the direction of the wads and the motion of the device shooting them, you can produce any desired shape.”

Masters' first 3D printed object
Masters' first 3D printed object

Take one star and make that your seed point.

According to the Bill, the idea for 3D printing occurred to him one night, camping on the Chattooga River in northeastern Georgia. “I was lying on the riverbank looking up at the stars, and I realized you could take one star and make that your seed point. You could add stars from any direction, until you had the shape you wanted.”

He spent years refining his idea and filed a patent for his Computer Automated Manufacturing Process and System on July 2 1984. This filing is on record at the USPTO as the first 3D printing patent in history; it was the first of three patents belonging to Masters that laid the foundation for the 3D printing systems used today.

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The Personal Modeler 2100

Bill introduced his 3D printing technology at CAD/CAM conferences on the late 1980s with little success. Undeterred, he founded Perception Systems to handle research and development on his technology.

In 1992, Perception Systems changed its name to Ballistic Particle Manufacturing (BPM) and receiving funding from Palmetto Seed Capital, a South Carolina venture capital group.

The 3D printer used a CAD system to manufacture an object of any shape by shooting plastic droplets. In a classic case of unfortunate timing, Bill had to part ways with BPM, to focus on his growing kayak business.

BPM, meanwhile, responding to pressure from its impatient investors and the completion, shipped sixteen Personal Modelers in beta to customers and distributors. BPM would go out of business in 1997. The corporate entity still exists and Bill continues to refine his technology.

Other Significant 3D Printing Patents

Bill holds multiple patents in 3D printing and additive manufacturing:

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United States 5134569

Filed Jun 26, 1989

3-D printing using extrusion

System and method for computer automated manufacturing using fluent material

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United States 5216616

Filed December 1, 1989

3-D printing

System and method for computer automated manufacture with reduced object shape distortion

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United States 5546313

Filed September 12, 1994

3-D printing using pin array

Method and apparatus for producing three-dimensional articles from a computer generated design

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United States 5694324

Filed March 6, 1995

3-D printing suited for live cell building without damage

System and method for manufacturing articles using fluent material droplets

Hear the story behind 3D printing

Bill’s happy to share the lessons learned from his work in 3D printing and additive manufacturing. Learn more about booking Bill for your next conference, company retreat or academic lecture series.