KU Leuven │ Leuven, Belgium
For his pioneering research in additive manufacturing (3D printing), which led to many technological innovations and several global companies. His work has inspired further research, enabled the creation of many patents, and built the foundation for others’ businesses.
Most of the powerful new technologies that have revolutionized society over recent decades have been based in the intangible realm of digital ones and zeroes. Our microcomputers, smartphones, and GPS receivers have forever changed the ways we think, communicate, and get around, but have not directly affected our physical world. One notable exception concerns not merely the manipulation of data, but the creation of physically tangible objects—additive manufacturing (AM). Belgian engineer Jean-Pierre Kruth has spent much of his career bringing additive manufacturing from its origins in the 1980s to a vital and growing sector of 21st century industry.
As implied by its common name, 3D printing, additive manufacturing involves the creation of physical objects through the deposition of raw materials under precise control. Designs consisting only of data in computer memory are transformed into tangible objects in the real world, just as a conventional printer translates a document from pixels on a screen into ink on printed pages. It works through a variety of specific processes, many of which Jean-Pierre Kruth has pioneered or perfected since earning his doctorate in 1979 at the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven (KU Leuven) in Belgium.
One of these is stereolithography, in which ultraviolet light is used to build up layers of photoreactive polymers. Kruth's early research led to large-scale "mammoth stereolithography machines" that enabled the quick and practical production of large single-part prototypes of objects such as car dashboards. In collaboration with the Zeneca corporation, he later extended this work to devise color stereolithography, in which an object can be made with differently colored sections to highlight various areas and features. This technique has proven particularly valuable in medicine, using computerized tomography or magnetic resonance imaging data to allow the rapid creation of 3D anatomical models of a specific patient so that doctors can plan complex surgical procedures in advance.
Kruth's research at KU Leuven spawned its first spinoff industrial concern in 1990, when he co-founded Materialise, Inc., which has since become one of the leading additive manufacturing companies in the world. Most recently, Kruth co-founded another company, LayerWise, which specializes in software and tools for other types of 3D printing processes used to produce metal parts, such as selective laser sintering/melting (SLS/SLM). These techniques, including the pioneering use of materials such as titanium, tungsten, and ceramics and the application of fiber lasers for SLS/SLM, were also perfected by Kruth and his research team.
Kruth is also one of the world's foremost researchers in metrology, the science of measurement, and its use in reverse engineering and quality control in parts manufacturing. His work in these areas resulted in the birth of yet another spinoff company, Metris, in 1995. Metris (renamed Nikon Metrology in 2009) develops software, techniques, and instruments for all kinds of industrial metrology applications including laser scanning, MRI/CT systems, microscopes, and even portable metrology devices. With Metris, Kruth is co-founder of three companies at the vanguard of the additive manufacturing discipline, a distinction no one else can claim.
Kruth's more than 500 papers, published in leading scientific and engineering journals worldwide, are among the most cited references in the AM field. As a KU Leuven faculty member since 1987, he has trained hundreds of the engineers and researchers who are now continuing to expand and extend the potential and power of additive manufacturing into the future.
Usually, the major contributions of researchers in most any field of engineering are concentrated in a single area: a particular technique, the invention of a specific device, or a similarly circumscribed focus. But Jean-Pierre Kruth's achievements range across the entire breadth of the burgeoning 3D printing industry, extending into related areas such as metrology and other industrial technologies such as laser cutting and electro-discharge machining. As 3D printing technologies transform industry, and ultimately our economy and culture, Jean-Pierre Kruth will continue to be recognized as the major innovator and researcher of the field.
Information as of April 2015