Carl Robert Deckard, the inventor known in the additive manufacturing for inventing and commercializing selective laser sintering technology, passed away on December 23, 2019. Along with the original SLS patent, Carl held 27 patents and was profiled by Fortune magazine as one of five modern technology pioneers, inducted into the Manufacturing Hall of Fame by Industry Week, and named a Master of Manufacturing by the Society of Manufacturing Engineers.
A graduate of the University of Texas, Mr. Deckard majored in Mechanical Engineering and, during a summer internship, started to think about a new way to fabricate parts directly from drawings by using a laser to fuse together powder in the shape of the part and building up the piece, layer by layer. By his senior year in 1984, he decided that he wanted to work on this idea for his Master’s degree at UT. He approached a number of professors and ultimately found Dr. Joe Beaman, a young assistant professor in Mechanical Engineering, who supported his idea and agreed to mentor him in his graduate studies.
Together they developed the process that became known as selective laser sintering, or by the acronym SLS, one of the earliest and most enduring forms of additive manufacturing. The result of his Master’s project was a selectively laser sintered plastic cube within another plastic cube. With the help of a grant from the National Science Foundation, he continued working on his invention for his PhD under the direction of Dr. Beaman.
Mr. Deckard’s graduate work was so successful that UT agreed to license the technology in 1988, the first time that UT had entered into such an agreement. There followed a number of twists and turns on the path to converting his lab machine into a commercial product, an effort that involved a number of designers, engineers, and project managers. Deckard co-founded Desk Top Manufacturing (DTM) Corp. in 1987, which specialized in rapid prototyping and manufacturing systems for manufacturers and service bureaus. The company was acquired by 3D Systems in 2001 at a $45 million valuation.
As the AM industry grew, Carl worked with his collaborators, Jim Mikulak and Vikram Devarajan, to invent new polymers for use in SLS, making it possible to make better quality 3D printed parts. Their company, Structure Polymers, Inc. was recently bought by Evonik.
A celebration of his life will be held in January. In lieu of flowers, the Deckard family has asked to send donations to Austin Pets Alive at austinpetsalive.org/donate, to honor Mr. Deckard’s passion for rescuing stray cats and dogs.