Pushing 3-D Manufacturing Forward

The Department of Mechanical Engineering is a pioneer of 3-D manufacturing, which includes a process called selective laser sintering. Learn more about the history of SLS at UT Austin.

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View a timeline showing the history of selective laser sintering (SLS) at UT Austin. (Timeline opens in new window)

In August, professors, students and companies from across the country convenved at the 24th Annual International Solid Freeform Fabrication Symposium-an Additive Manufacturing Conference, held at The University of Texas at Austin — which is home to an additive manufacturing technique, selective laser sintering.

Hosted by the Department of Mechanical Engineering’s Laboratory for Freeform Fabrication, the annual SFF Symposium is the leading academic symposium on additive manufacturing in the nation. Sometimes called 3-D manufacturing, additive manufacturing encompasses various techniques that use computer models to form solid objects.

During this year’s symposium, which occurred Aug. 12-14, attendees, which included 88 authors and 74 students from universities and companies around the United States, discussed the industry’s advancements and challenges.

Engineering faculty members at UT Austin created the symposium, as university research helped pioneer the field of additive manufacturing with the development of the high-end process known as selective laser sintering (SLS).

In the 1980s, Carl Deckard, then a mechanical engineering student at the Cockrell School of Engineering, invented SLS under the guidance of professor Joe Beaman. Deckard came up with the idea to use a laser to melt powders together to make a 3-D object. With Beaman’s help, Deckard built the first SLS machine, nicknamed Betsy, in the mechanical engineering department.

Over the years, Beaman and Deckard’s work with SLS evolved, serving as the basis for the industry. Today, Beaman and other UT Austin faculty and students continue to push the boundaries of what SLS can do in terms of high-end manufacturing, and the results are astonishing — from engine parts to prosthetics.

View the timeline above for a brief history of SLS at UT Austin, as well as how enterprising students and faculty are using the technique today.

More on SLS at UT Austin

Selective Laser Sintering, Birth of an Industry

This is the story of the birth of an industry that began in the Department of Mechanical Engineering in the 1980s. An undergraduate student, with an idea hatched while working a summer job, asked for the help of a young and hungry assistant professor, who managed to get the project funded. Soon enthusiastic, powerful and hardworking people defended its potential, and with a few strokes of luck, and a lot of just plain hard work, developed a manufacturing technology that spawned the additive manufacturing industry.

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