The new technique developed by EPFL researches produces a small, soft object in less than 30 seconds. (Image Credit: EPFL)
Traditional 3D printers are not magic… they take time. As you may know, the process, which can take hours or days to complete, involves slowly building up a 3D model one layer at a time. What if there was a way to shorten that time? Researchers at Switzerland’s EPFL have developed a new 3D printing method that takes less than 30 seconds to print high-precision objects. The team published their findings in the journal Nature Communications on February 12, 2020.
This new technique involves solidifying a photosensitive resin with a laser. The researchers found inspiration in tomography techniques, the same ones used in x-rays and ultrasounds, to print a 3D model. This was achieved by illuminating a photosensitive resin from multiple angles with laser light modulated with a digital light processing (DLP) chip. The laser covers the entire build volume while the resin rotates as it’s exposed to the light. Afterward, the laser is synced up with the rotating resin, resulting in a 3D model being produced in just a matter of seconds.
“It’s all about the light,” explains Paul Delrot, Readily3D’s CTO. “The laser hardens the liquid through a process of polymerization. Depending on what we’re building, we use algorithms to calculate exactly where we need to aim the beams, from what angles, and at what dose.”
The new- process is capable of producing objects that measure up to 2 centimeters, with a precision of 80 micrometers. As the team improves the process and develops larger-scale printers, they could potentially build objects measuring up to 15 centimeters. The build volume of the 3D printer in EPFL’s demonstration measures 16mm x 16mm x 20mm.
“Conventional 3D printing techniques, known as additive manufacturing, build parts layer by layer,” explains Damien Loterie, the CEO of Readily3D. “The problem is that soft objects made that way quickly fall apart.”
With the speed and method of this new technique, these issues can easily be solved. The system could be used in biology and medicine fields to produce cell-laden scaffolds to create tissues or organs. Since the technique is also compatible with hydrogels and liquid polymers, it could produce soft objects like mouth guards and hearing aids. The researchers are already working with a surgeon to develop and test 3D printed arteries using this technique. It could also be used in interior and design markets since it can rapidly print acrylic or silicone parts without requiring a finish.
The new patent-pending technique developed by the EPFL researchers is already on its way to commercialization, through Readily3D, which will further develop and market the system.
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