Experimental 3D printer uses laser holograms to crank out objects quickly

We love 3D printers, but they sure can take their sweet time to print something. Large objects can take several hours to make it from our desktops onto the print bed. Now, a team of researchers, led by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, think they’ve found a better, much faster way. And for bonus “awesome tech” points, it involves using laser holograms.

Instead of the classic method of printing an object by putting down one layer at a time, the team’s new “holographic” printing technique utilizes special resins that solidify as soon as they are exposed to light. By shining three laser beams simultaneously at a vat filled with the resin, the researchers have showcased the ability to fabricate a 3D structure in only 10 seconds.

“We are demonstrating a new technology that can produce 3D objects instantly in just in a few seconds,” Nicholas Fang, associate professor in the department of mechanical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, told Digital Trends. “This is not yet a replicator machine from Star Trek, but to my knowledge it is the fastest way to turn a design from the digital world to a physical copy. The fabrication process is much like the inverse of engineering drawings. In engineering drawings, we project the model of 3D parts with top views, front views, and right views. In our fabrication process, we send the images of these different views from three sides of a resin vat, allowing them to overlap in the volume of the liquid polymer. The parts that are exposed by all three intersecting beams will solidify, forming the desired shape in real time.”

Dr. Maxim Shusteff of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory told us that the technique can improve on existing 3D printing because it won’t create the same layering-based defects, such as zigzag or step-style surfaces, that come with regular additive manufacturing. “Although our parts aren’t particularly smooth yet, we’ve broken the conceptual barrier for how to get there,” Shusteff said. “I don’t think this will make other ways of doing additive manufacturing obsolete, but it adds a powerful new tool to the broad additive manufacturing toolset.”

A paper describing the work was recently published in the journal Scientific Advances.