When you 3D print, existing technologies print layer by layer at a slow pace. Now, researchers from EPFL in Switzerland say they have developed a completely new way to create 3D objects that has unprecedented resolution and record printing speeds.
As reported in EPFL News, the method draws on the principles of CT - a technique that uses X-rays or ultrasound to show a cross-section through a solid object. To create the object, the photosensitive resin is irradiated from several angles and the accumulation of energy from the light helps to cure the resin. In other words, the objects are brought together as a solid structure in the resin all at once, rather than segment by segment as in traditional 3D printing. Paul Delrot, Readily3D's Chief Technology Officer, explains, "It's all about the light." Readily3D is a company dedicated to developing and marketing the system. "The laser hardens the liquid through a polymerisation process. Depending on the object we want to build, we use algorithms to calculate exactly where we need to align the beam, the angle and the dose."
The technology has a wide range of applications, but its advantages over existing methods (i.e. the ability to print solid parts with different textures) make it well suited to medicine and biology. For example, the process can be used to create soft objects such as tissues, organs, hearing aids and mouth guards. Furthermore, printing can be carried out in sealed sterile containers to prevent contamination. EPFL News added: "The system is currently capable of manufacturing two centimetre structures with a precision of 80 microns, approximately the same diameter as a strand of hair."
The team expects the technology to later evolve to print larger objects, which are expected to be up to 15 centimetres long. Christophe Moser, head of EPFL's Applied Optical Devices Laboratory, says: "The process could also be used to rapidly manufacture small silicone or acrylic-based parts that do not require finishing after printing." Interior design could therefore be a potentially lucrative market for the new printer.