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Carl Robert Deckard

1961 - 2019
Carl Robert Deckard Obituary
DECKARD, Carl Robert 1961 - 2019 Carl Robert Deckard, inventor, sailor, skier, scuba diver, pilot, and player of the musical saw, passed away on December 23, 2019. He was the inventor of Selective Laser Sintering, which helped usher in the 3D printing revolution. He also invented the Deckard Engine and developed better polymers for use in 3D printing. Carl held 27 patents and was profiled by Fortune magazine as one of five modern technology pioneers, inducted into the Manufacturing Hall of Fame by Industry Week, and named a Master of Manufacturing by the Society of Manufacturing Engineers. Carl was born in Houston on June 20, 1961 and attended elementary school in Michigan, Ohio, and Port Arthur, Texas. When he was a child, his family struggled to keep a working clock in the house because Carl was constantly taking them apart to understand how they worked. From the first time he was asked what he'd like to be when he grew up, his answer was always, "I want to be an inventor," and even as a small child he proudly showed off his drawings of ideas for inventions. After attending junior high in Clear Lake City, Carl moved back to Port Arthur to live with his loving grandparents, and graduated from Thomas Jefferson High School. During his high school years, he was an avid member of the Sea Scouts, where he developed his lifelong love of sailing and benefited from mentoring that helped change the course of his life. He was an enthusiastic student in classes he enjoyed and an abysmal one in classes he found uninteresting. As a result, his high school transcript was a roller coaster of As and Ds, making his acceptance to the University of Texas questionable. True to form, Carl aced his SAT and made it in. At UT, Carl majored in Mechanical Engineering. During a summer internship, Carl started to think about a new invention: a way to fabricate parts directly from drawings by using a laser to fuse together powder in the shape of the part and building up the piece, layer by layer. By his senior year in 1984, he decided that he wanted to work on this idea for his Master's degree at UT. He approached a number of professors who told him why his idea would not work, but he ultimately found Dr. Joe Beaman, a young assistant professor in Mechanical Engineering, who supported his idea and agreed to mentor him in his graduate studies. Together they developed the process that became known as Selective Laser Sintering, one of the earliest and most enduring forms of additive manufacturing (commonly called 3D printing). The result of his Master's project was a Selective Laser Sintered plastic cube within another plastic cube. With the help of a grant from the National Science Foundation, he continued working on his invention for his PhD under the direction of Dr. Beaman. During that time, he met and married Sally Hall, and together they had two sons, Thomas and Michael. Carl's graduate work was so successful that UT agreed to license the technology in 1988, the first time that UT had entered into such an agreement. There followed a number of twists and turns on the path to converting his finicky lab machine into a commercial product, an effort that involved a number of gifted designers, engineers, and project managers. As the 3D printing industry grew, Carl turned his energies to an entirely new idea: a new design for a 4-stroke engine that was small enough to replace the loud and polluting 2-stroke engines currently used in lawn mowers and other small equipment. He worked with collaborators over a number of years to develop the Deckard Engine but, as often happens to inventors, was ultimately unable to recruit the investment needed to commercialize it. In recent years, Carl worked with his collaborators, Jim Mikulak and Vikram Devarajan, to invent new polymers for use in Selective Laser Printing, making it possible to make better quality 3D printed parts. Their company, Structure Polymers, Inc. was recently bought by Evonik. In addition to his passion for inventing, Carl loved the water. He competed in numerous sailing regattas, and he enjoyed living in Austin on a bluff overlooking the Colorado River. He also had a large group of friends from his softball and ski clubs. He loved music and was well known for bringing out unusual musical instruments at parties most notably his musical saw. He was soft-hearted and often rescued stray dogs and cats. He will be sorely missed by his family and friends. He is survived by his sons, Thomas; Michael and wife Chelsea; sister, Lucy; and ex-wives Sally and Kimberly. A celebration of his life will be held in January. In lieu of flowers, please send donations to Austin Pets Alive at austinpetsalive.org/donate.
Published in Austin American-Statesman on Dec. 29, 2019
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