30 Years of Innovation: How Stereolithography Sparked Materialise’s Inventive Ethos

On June 28 th of this year, i.materialise’s parent company Materialise reached  its 30 th  anniversary , and to celebrate, we’re looking back at a different technology on our blog each month that has made the company what it is today. During August, we’re putting the focus on Stereolithography (SLA): the technology behind our Gray , Mammoth , Standard , and Transparent Resin materials.

Manufacturing was revolutionized in 1986 when the introduction of the Stereolithography machine established the 3D printing industry. It was a huge step forward for the manufacturing industry and unlike anything ever seen before. Suddenly, designers could take an idea from concept to final product in just hours. The possibilities of all that could be created with this new technology felt limitless.
Four years later, Fried Vancraen decided to purchase an SLA machine — the second of its kind in all of Europe — and founded Materialise. Fried was fascinated by the power and potential of this technology and was attracted to the many possible solutions and applications empowered by it. With the power of SLA in the hands of the small group of forward-thinkers that started Materialise, an innovative company was born. Innovation began at Materialise immediately with this new, revolutionary technology, and this inventive mindset has only grown as decades passed, including various advancements in SLA.
30 years, 2,000+ employees, and 38 SLA machines later, Materialise has proven time and time again that innovation is in the organization’s DNA.

Materialise CEO Fried Vancraen with the company’s first SLA printer.

Not just thinking big, but thinking better
During Materialise’s first decade, the pioneering team continued printing, but they wondered how they could make SLA even better. There were a few issues they ran into with the first machines on the market: the recoaters came into contact with the layers as printing progressed, resulting in frequent breaks and flaws that required the team to begin the print from scratch again.
So, they decided to tackle these issues head-on by developing a curtain recoating machine of their own: the Mammoth printer.
Upon thinking of a Mammoth printer, you’d probably expect a rather large machine. And that it is. However, the size wasn’t their driving motivation to create the machine, but rather the result of the well-rounded and powerful machine that they desired.
“The overall robustness of the technology has allowed us to build such a large machine,” explains Toon Roels, Director of Process Engineering and Quality, Materialise. “This alternative method to depositing layers increases users’ chances of successfully depositing a layer and completing a build simply because there is no physical contact with the recoater.”
By developing an SLA printer that did not require the recoaters to come into contact with the layers, the team ended up...