Frank Herzog, CEO and founder of metal 3D printing company Concept Laser gives GE Reports an insights into the founding and initial development of the laser-based additive manufacturing technology. We take a look at some of the highlights.

The German company, based in Lichtenfels, was founded by Herzog in 2000 and was acquired by GE in a deal that valued the company at $599 million.

Herzog's first metal 3D printer prototype which was hand-powered. Photo via Concept Laser.

Herzog’s first metal 3D printer prototype which was hand-powered. Photo via Concept Laser.

Origins of Concept Laser

Frank Herzog developed his first metal additive manufacturing machine as part of his master’s thesis at Coburg University.

Spending his early years as a tinkerer, Herzog explains his passion for metals was combined with the possibilities of 3D printing while working at a prototyping shop owned by Robert Hofmann. Herzog worked at the shop while he was studying and Hofmann owned one of Germany’s first SLA 3D printers. Herzog explains it was then his idea for 3D printing metal was sparked.

Creating the technology was difficult for Herzog and found initial stumbling blocks producing a fully dense metal part. It wasn’t until he finally laid his hands on a solid-state laser that he could produce a 10 layer thick 1 centimetre x 1 centimetre square of steel. The success came after many sleepless nights and meant Herzog could graduate from university and also find investment to develop a company around the process, Concept Laser.

One of the first applications of the Concept Laser machines. 3D printing injection mold cooling channels. Photo via Werkzeugbau Siefgried Hofmann/Concept Laser.

One of the first applications of the Concept Laser machines. 3D printing injection mold cooling channels. Photo via Werkzeugbau Siefgried Hofmann/Concept Laser.

Applying metal

Having now founded the company, Herzog brought his first machine to the 2001 Euro Mold trade show in Frankfurt. At the time, the machine was the “first laser-powered, metal-melting 3D printer on the market.” Concept Laser then began to sell the machines and two of the first three machines ever sold were to Robert Hoffmann and members of Herzog’s extended family. However, the third was acquired by German automotive manufacturer Daimler. Daimler, the parent company of Mercedes-Benz, is still implementing 3D printing today. Daimler recently revealed how it is using 3D printing to create bespoke parts for its fleet of buses.

Since the development of the first machines, Concept Laser has expanded its machine offerings and subsequently broadened application for the technology. Currently the 750 Concept Laser machines in operation have a wide range of users. Military institutions, such as the US Navy, have incorporated machines as well as medical applications to create hip replacements and even produce medical tools to be used in heart surgeries.

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Featured image shows a hip joint replacement produced on a modern Concept Laser M lab machine. Photo via Frauhofer IWU/Concept Laser.

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