Laser microfabrication techniques move rapid prototyping to the mainstream


Rapid prototyping is a fabrication technique that uses additive layer-by-layer fabrication to create three-dimensional structures from devices ranging in scale from MEMS devices to 3D-printed houses. The technique has its origins in the mathematical theories of Herb Voelker that provide the basis for 3D computer-aided design (CAD). Carl Deckard applied these principles in the 1990s to develop a fabrication method that he called “selective laser sintering3” which rapidly evolved into 3D printing, rapid prototyping and other laser microfabrication methods.

Recently, rapid prototyping has captured the interest and imagination of the public owing to the potential for easier and cheaper access to everything from replacement parts for common consumer products to dental appliances5. President Barack Obama, in his 2013 State of the Union address, promoted rapid prototyping as having the “potential to revolutionize the way we make almost everything.” Rapid prototyping machines are now common in many settings, from private homes to the engineering departments of major corporations.