EnvisionTEC turns 15 years old this year, and while it has a big celebration planned, the prolific 3D printer manufacturer has no intention of sitting back and taking things easy for its birthday. Over the past decade and a half, EnvisionTEC has become well known as a leader in the dental and jewelry 3D printing markets, and for good reason – the company was the first to commercialize Digital Light Projection (DLP), the preferred 3D printing technology of both industries. It has branched out significantly since then, however, and that’s what EnvisionTEC really wants to emphasize this year.

In addition to the jewelry and dental 3D printing markets, EnvisionTEC also has a hand in bioprinting, with its 3D Bioplotter playing a vital role in cutting-edge medical research such as the development of hyperelastic 3D printed bone, biocompatible electronic medical devices, and even, possibly, 3D printed organs in the future. (You can read more of the research being conducted with the 3D Bioplotter here.) In addition, EnvisionTEC offers two heavy industrial 3D printing technologies: Viridis3D Binder Jetting technology, for the robotic additive manufacturing of sand molds and cores for foundries; and Selective Lamination Composite Additive Manufacturing (SLCOM), for carbon fiber composite printing.

Last year saw the launch of several new printers and even new technologies, including SLCOM and cDLM, or Continuous Digital Light Manufacturing – plus the increasing popularity of EnvisionTEC’s proprietary large-scale vat polymerization technology, 3SP. It’s certainly been a successful, and extremely busy, 15 years, and now as the company reaches its crystal anniversary, CEO Al Siblani shares his thoughts about how EnvisionTEC got to where it is today.

Why did you start your own 3D printer company?

Al Siblani

“I was in the 3D printing space for quite some time, and I had gotten a chance to evaluate all the different technologies out there, and I was looking for a technology that would fill the gap, deliver 3D printed parts that others could not deliver…I felt that there was a need for a printer that could deliver highly accurate parts with very, very high resolution.

When I worked for Helisys, an early lamination 3D printer company, I got to meet Sasha Shkolnik, who was the engineering manager. I had a chance to work with him very closely…I felt that Sasha was the right partner, so I picked up the phone, I called Sasha, and I said, ‘Let’s get to work,’ he said, ‘Where?’ I said, ‘In my living room.’

So we started building our machine in my living room.”

How did you get the idea to bring your first 3D printer to the jewelry market?

“In March of 2003, I took my first printer to the first tradeshow and started building parts right at the show for the first time in jewelry. Historically speaking, there was not too many people that were doing that in the jewelry market, and it would take days to print one single ring. Here, I come in and I can print in hours a ring that has very high resolution, that has very high detail, and that allowed me to get my first three sales at the show in March of 2003. That was the beginning of the commercialization of DLP 3D printing.”

EnvisionTEC CEO Al Siblani (center) stands next to a Perfactory 3D printer, which is now in its fourth generation, and a slice of the global team in EnvisionTEC’s Dearborn, Mich., headquarters. EnvisionTEC also has an International headquarters in Gladbeck, Germany, as well as facilities in Boston, Mass.; Los Angeles, Calif.; Montreal, Canada; Stoke-on-Trent in the U.K.; and in Kiev, Ukraine.

How did you get from from DLP in 2002 to your current product offerings, which span bioprinting and 3SP to a machine that 3D prints composites and a robot that does sand castings?

“For me, I think that a company can only continue to grow and succeed as long as you continue to innovate. That’s really what I think about every morning: ‘What are the areas in which I think we can deliver products that will disrupt traditional manufacturing processes, and make a difference?’ With that in mind, I’m definitely paranoid, I think about it all the time. I’m actually always looking for what’s the next big thing because the next big thing is going to allow me to make my company a bigger one.”

You were recently invited to speak about one of your new technologies at AERODEF in Texas. How did you come up with the idea for the SLCOM, which additively manufactures woven fiber composites?

“I always try to find areas where I think there’s a need for a solution where 3D printing could be utilized. To be more specific, where additive manufacturing is going to be utilized. When I look very closely at the aerospace industry and I look specifically at some of the new activities that relates to, for example, General Electric getting into the metal space, I wanted to understand what are the areas that could be interesting for EnvisionTEC to get into. I was looking closely at the area of carbon fiber composites with thermoplastic and thermosets, and I knew that there was no real industrial system out there that could deliver those types of parts by using additive manufacturing or 3D printing.

So I investigated that closely again with our chief technical officer, who is my original brainstorming partner at EnvisionTEC, Sasha Shkolnik, and we thought, why don’t we go back and try to revisit a sophisticated lamination technology. We sat at the drawing board, and we started thinking about what we know from both of our backgrounds and we came up with the SLCOM, Selective Lamination Composite Object Manufacturing, which I think will deliver some very impressive solutions for the aerospace and the automotive industries.”

These carbon fiber and PEEK parts were additively manufactured on EnvisionTEC’s SLCOM 1, which uses a proprietary selective lamination technique to 3D print woven fiber composites pre-impregnated with thermoplastics.

What do you think makes EnvisionTEC unique among 3D printer manufacturers?

“If you look at the history of EnvisionTEC, we are innovators, we are not copiers. When you look at our technology, we were the originators of the DLP technology, we were the originators of the Bioplotter, we were the originators of the robotic additive manufacturing process through the acquisition of Viridis3D and if you look at the 3SP technology, we were the innovators of that. We’ve never gone out and copied everybody, and that’s something I’m really proud of and I think that’s really what separate us from the rest of the crowd. We do not re-invent, we innovate.”

So what’s next for EnvisionTEC? Again, the company has no intention of slowing down anytime soon, and will be introducing several new products at RAPID 2017, which will be taking place in Pittsburgh from May 8 to 11. 3DPrint.com will be there, and we’re looking forward to getting a first look at what the company has to offer, as well as sharing it with you. You can find more about what EnvisionTEC has planned for its 15-year anniversary here, and take a look at the video below:

Discuss in the EnvisionTEC forum at 3DPB.com.

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