Over the past 6 months alone, almost 500 3D printing patents were either requested or granted for various geographic areas around the world. This statistic alone can offer a view into the vibrant scene of 3D printing patents, with several tech giants actively involved. Some are usual suspects like HP or 3D Systems. Others may seem unexpected, like Sony Computer Entertainment, Microsoft, IBM, LG and Amazon.
HP was the company that appeared the most in patent news, with 38 patents filed for or received, which makes sense given the sheer R&D power of the company and its new AM development center. The second most present company is XYZprinting – which also makes sense since the Taiwanese company manufactures 3D printers leveraging several different technologies. Further down the list are Autodesk and Velo3D, two companies making some big moves in AM recently (mostly with innovative software to run the AM hardware). In between are literally dozens of Chinese companies and universities with some very, very interesting ideas for materials and processes.
Looking a little more closely at what these patents are about can help us understand where the additive manufacturing industry is headed.
- Just this past June, Sony Interactive Entertainment Inc and Sony Interactive Entertainment Europe sought a patent for “Device and Method of Analysing an Object for 3D Printing”. It is unclear what this patent is about but it would make sense that it relates to the company’s activities in the virtual reality space.
- 3D Systems, the first company to patent a 3D printing technology ever, was granted United States patents for two very interesting materials. One is “Thiol-Ene Inks for 3D Printing” and the other is “Non-Isocyanate Polyurethane Inks for 3D Printing”. This last one in particular, non-isocyanate polyurethane (NIPU), is a novel kind of polyurethane prepared by reaction of cyclo-carbonates and amines without the use of toxic isocyanates. NIPU has attracted increasing attention because of its improvements in porosity, water absorption, and thermal and chemical resistance over conventional polyurethanes. In other words, it’s a type of “green” polyurethane, which would indicate two things: one is that 3D Systems is increasingly looking at production applications and the other is that the company is growing more environmentally conscious.
- Microsoft Technology Licensing was awarded a patent for “Determining Print-Time for Generation of 3D Objects Based on 3D Printing Parameters”. Those who followed the “videogame wars” of the early 2000’s know that there is no Sony move without a Microsoft counter-move. Microsoft is also very active on the 3MF file format and even integrated some 3D printing support into its Windows OS. It seems logical that the company is increasingly looking at controlling the AM process.
- IBM was awarded a patent for “Methods and Systems for Verifying and Modifying a 3D Printing Process”. If Microsoft is moving in this space so is IBM. Apparently, large computer companies are starting to see the business in using processing power to manage the AM process.
- John T. Simpson obtained a patent for “Liquid Resin Modification for Volumetric Superhydrophobic 3D Printing”. We told you we would hear the term volumetric quite often this year. Prof. Simpson is a senior research scientist at Oak Ridge National Lab in Oak Ridge Tennessee, another frequent 3D printing patent flyer. He has worked at ORNL for the past 12 years and is currently working on a variety of programs related to superhydrophobic and nanostructured materials, anti-corrosion surface treatments and anti-biofouling materials. This will be interesting to follow.
- Another one for sustainability: Heilongjiang Xinda Group submitted a patent application for “PP-SEBS Composite Material for 3D Printing”. SEBS is actually a form of thermoplastic elastomer (TPE) with styrene added. Green Peace lists SEBS as an acceptable alternative to PVC in toys. Polyolefin plastics such as Polyethylene (PE) and Polypropylene (PP) are the most common building blocks for SEBS, which don’t need plasticizers (like phthalates) or stabilizers (like lead) for flexibility.
- Hewlett-Packard Development Company LP submitted a United States patent application for “Post-Processing in 3D Printing Systems”. Out of more than 30 HP patent applications or registrations, we chose this one that highlights how the company is looking beyond just the AM process. Another patent was for a specific storage system for the AM build, which clearly is used for more automated production.
- LG Chemical applied for a patent on “3D Printing Method”. We don’t know anything else about this except that it’s LG and LG is a big, very innovative company. If they are developing a new 3D printing method we are curious to know more about it.
- The State Intellectual Property Office of China published Winsun New Mat’s patent application for a “3D Printing Spray Head”. Again, it’s not so much the new spray head that is interesting here but rather the company behind it. It’s interesting that Winsun actually registers a lot of patents when the company has been often accused of a very libertine use of ideas by other construction 3D printing inventors.
- Voxeljet AG was granted a patent for “Construction of a 3D Printing Device for Producing Components”. Not sure if this refers to voxeljet’s latest VJET X production technology or its HSS business. However, it would be great if the company is finally using its sand 3D printing technology to make final parts.
- Voxel8 Inc submitted a United States patent application for “Methods of 3D Printing Articles with Particles”. This likely relates to the company’s footwear 3D printing technology. As does another patent that Voxel8 obtained in 2019 from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for “3D Printing Methods Using Mixing Nozzles”. Possibly this means that the company is closer to commercialization.
- Orisol Asia Submitted a patent application for a “High Output Shoe Upper 3D Printing System”. This is curious because it’s the same thing that Voxel8 does, and the application came right around Voxel8 submitted their own. Founded in 1987 in Israel, Orisol is a large company dedicated to the entire shoemaking process: robotics automation, computerized stitching machines, assembly solutions & shoe materials. In 1990, Orisol unveiled the first computerized stitching machine. Today the company is a total comprehensive provider of complete footwear automation integration solutions feature scalability, compatibility, and digitization to meet the requirements of smart manufacturing. Could the two be related?
- Goodman Technologies filed a United States patent application for “3D Printing of Silicon Carbide Structures”. This is very fascinating. Mostly because of the company behind it: Goodman Technologies LLC (GT) offers professional, scientific, system engineering, and technical services. GT’s Global Vendor Network which includes 3D and additive manufacturing in polymers, ceramics, metals and composites and provides a capability to analyze, design, manufacture, integrate and test complex system level products. Goodman works with companies in the aerospace business and 3D printed silicon carbide is a big thing in that segment.
- A United States patent for “Method of 3D Printing with Finishing Tool” was issued to Amazon Technologies.
Yes, you read correctly: it’s that Amazon, only this time it’s not an April Fools joke. It may be more closely related to the recent deal with Autodesk for more space on its servers. Jokes aside, the fact that amazon is looking at finishing 3D printed products may indicate that the company is looking more closely at selling digital on-demand 3D printed objects.
- Northrop Grumman Systems was granted a United States patent for “Device and Method for 3D Printing with Long-Fiber Reinforcement”. While there are now a few companies experimenting with long-fiber composites (we assume it’s intended as continuous fiber, but the same goes for long-chopped fiber), it is particularly interesting if defense giant Northrop goes for it.
- Harbin Institute of Technology applied for a patent on “Ultrasound-Enhancement-Based 3D Printing Spray Nozzle for Continuous-Fiber-Reinforced Composite Material”. Talk about the devil. Here is an interesting – to say the least – development on continuous fiber 3D printing. Really curious to find out how ultrasounds come into play.
- Xerox was granted a United States patent for “Systems and Methods for Implementing High-Speed Final Surface Curing for Three Dimensional (3D) Printed Parts and Components”. Early on in the era of 3D printing patents, Xerox was one of the biggest patent holders and still is. However, the company has not yet made a very strong move into the market, besides a couple of recent acquisitions. Perhaps the company has been waiting until it is able to print more finished parts.
- KT Corporation obtained a patent for “3D Printing Resource Allocation”. KT Corporation, formerly Korea Telecom, is South Korea’s largest telephone company. The formerly state-owned firm is South Korea’s first telephone company and as such it dominates the local landline infrastructure. Who better to study new ways to allocate and distribute 3D printing capabilities for tomorrow’s on-demand production?
- Bioniko Consulting obtained a patent for “Method for Fabricating Simulated Tissue Structures by Means of Multi-Material 3D Printing”. This is interesting because Bioniko makes ultra-realistic eye models. This is a rather unique business segment and definitely one to keep an eye on…
- The last one is actually two and it’s again about composites because, well, we really like 3D printing of composite materials. Not because it’s easy but because it’s hard. The Harbin Institute of Technology submitted a Chinese patent application for “Method for Preparing and Printing Aluminosilicate Polymer Composite Material for 3D (Three-Dimensional) Printing”. This is even better because it doesn’t just involve composites but also ceramics and aluminum. Another Asian institution, the Chonnam National University, applied for a patent on “3D Composite Materials for 3D Printing and Method for Manufacturing Electronic Parts Using the Same”. Composites and electronics: could graphene be involved?
Again, these were just some of the hundreds of applications filed for 3D printed patents, the ones that most caught our attention. There are a lot more and there will be tons more. Every once in a while it may be worth giving these a closer look.