Selective laser sintering was the brainchild of one Carl Deckard and his academic adviser at the time, Dr. Joe Beaman, at the University of Texas at Austin in the mid-1980s. The pair became founding fathers of a new paradigm in creating three-dimensional objects.
Deckard patented the technology, which is only now reaching out into the American consciousness, and the critical patent for his SLS process expired recently.
SLS is an additive manufacturing technique which uses a laser as the power source to meld powdered material at points in space directed by a 3D model, and it binds the material to create a solid structure. The powder-based process, due to its methodology, requires no support structures to be included in the model to be output. The most recent patent regarding Deckard's SLS technology was issued 28 January 1997, and expired on January 28 of this year.
The expiration of that patent is a watershed moment which may ultimately bring down the cost of the SLS.
For the last couple of years, a team in Mantova, Italy, began "playing with three dimensional digitizers and scanners and printers." That company, Norge Systems, is about to launch a pair of low-priced, SLS-based machines: the Ice1 and Ice9.
The idea was to make a device which could compete with existing SLS machines and their end-product like fine finishes.
So where did the name come from? The developers, Luca Veneri, Alessandro Facchini and Stefani Rebbechi, say that they were inspired by the work of Italian engineer and explorer Umberto Nobile. Nobile reached the North Pole using his lighter-than-air flying machine, the NORGE airship, and the team says it's that sort of "passion, love for innovation and adventurous spirit" which drove them to take on the project.
The first of these devices, The Ice9, uses an Arduino and a 40W tube laser to sinter polyamide or nylon powder to build objects of up to 30 x 30 x 45 cm in size at a layer thicknesses of between .1 and .15 mm.
While it may seem expensive, the Ice9 (capable of engraving and cutting via laser as well) is expected to be priced at around $34,000. Consider that analogous machines with the same capabilities clock in at a quarter-million dollars or more and you can imagine the sea of change about to wash over the 3D printing beach.
The Ice1 is a smaller version priced at $13,000. It includes some of the same features, but it has a smaller build volume and less powerful laser.
While their initial offering – should it make the grade with crowdsourcing investors – is quite an achievement, they also plan to develop a metal laser sintering machine called the IceM, and that should generate a buzz as well. You can check out the Kickstarter campaign here.