20 years ago, the world was experiencing the whirlwind introduction of a range of ‘additive manufacturing’ processes which would radically affect our attitudes to design and manufacturing. From the SLA process in 1986 to FDM, Laminated Object Manufacturing in 1991 and Selective Laser Sintering in 1992, we have been inundated with a host of processes, each different in their methodology, and some of which haven’t stood the test of time, but all of which have sought to do the same one thing – the fast production of high quality functional components in as short a time as possible.
In 1991, Laser Prototypes Europe Ltd was set up as a pioneering new company offering Rapid Prototyping Technologies including Stereolithography and Vacuum Casting as a bureau service available to companies throughout the UK and Ireland. Offering a radically faster alternative to traditional methods, early customers included Ford, GEC, Marconi and BAE. “Our very first customer was ACCO Rexel in 1991”, reminisces Tom Walls, Managing Director and owner of the company. “Back then, Stereolithography was a novelty rather than a necessity. Nobody in the UK had really even heard of RP and it was only just about to hit the screens of Tomorrows World.”
Tom was one of the founder members of the International Rapid Prototyping Association, whose newsletter would eventually become TCT. His significant contribution to the promotion of Rapid Prototyping and Manufacturing in the UK and Ireland was recognized in his nomination as a Fellow of the Institute of Mechanical Engineering in 1999.
“Materials and resins have always been pivotal in determining how and to who we offer our services. The very first acrylic SLA resins were so unstable and fragile that once a part was built, it was to be placed on a desk, looked at by all and touched by nobody” says Tom, who first witnesses the SLA process in its infancy whilst on a business trio with Shorts Bombardier in the USA.