3D Printing with Light

By Xavier Lam

Researchers from California have developed a new way to 3D print. Instead of using the conventional method of printing in layers, they were able to create entire objects at once.

They nicknamed their 3D printer the “replicator’ (a reference to the Star Trek machine of the same name, which is able to materialize any object).

the ‘replicator’ (c) Nature CC BY-SA 2.0

Hayden Taylor, an electrical engineer at the University of California explains that the device works like a computed tomography (CT) scan in reverse.

A CT machine uses an X-ray tube that rotates around the patient, taking multiple images of the body’s insides. Using the projections, a 3D picture is reconstructed with a computer.

Short looping gif showing the light printing fluid process
the thinker (c) UC Berkely CC BY-SA 2.0

The Process

The team of scientists used a computer model of a 3D object first, converted it into 2D images from many different angles, then fed these images into a ordinary slide projector. The images are then projected into a rotating cylindrical container filled with an acrylate, a type of synthetic resin.

This special resin undergoes photopolymerization. A chemical in the resin absorbs photons and, once it reaches a certain threshold, the resin molecules link together into chains to make a solid plastic. As the container rotates, the projected images cycle through corresponding angles, eventually turning the resin into solid 3D object.

Applications?

The process only takes around two minutes and can create objects that enclose existing ones. Additionally, the device also produces objects with softer surfaces than conventional 3D printers, which can be useful for producing optical components. The scientists also state that it can also be used to make medical components.

Final Thoughts

I think that this technology is very inventive and can be used and improved on in the future. It will be interesting to see how this device will compete with conventional 3D printers and if we will ever see one of these in schools or available for purchase. What are your thoughts on this device?

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