SRI pioneered a direct photo-shaping process to quickly produce working components for ceramic engines. The moldless, freeform process shortened production cycles through rapid iterative product design and fabrication. Up to that point in industry, rapid prototyping had been applied only to construction of plastic parts.
The patented approach was mechanically similar to today’s 3D printing techniques, but did not use lasers. Instead, visible digital light projection was used to build images on ceramic dispersions (ceramic powders held in liquid). For each layer of a component to be built, its projected image was changed according to the computer-aided design (CAD) data that described the object. The layer was then solidified by photocuring its exposed areas. Multiple layers were dispensed and photocured to fabricate the component.
The technology was used by government contractors, and was extended to the fabrication of other types of ceramic components, such as solid oxide fuel cells and medical devices.