Researchers discover a way to make 3D printing 100 times faster using light

Are you old enough to remember the speed increase when you jumped from a dot matrix printer to a laser printer for the first time? How about when you switched from dial-up internet to broadband? 3D printing could be about to get a similarly seismic speed boost, thanks to pioneering research coming out of the University of Michigan.

Researchers there have invented a new method of 3D printing that is up to 100 times faster than conventional 3D-printing processes. This could potentially prove transformative for the use of additive manufacturing in large-scale print runs, as opposed to one-off prototypes.

“We demonstrated the ability to harden liquid resin with one wavelength of light while preventing the hardening of the resin by superimposing light of a different wavelength,” Timothy Scott, an associate professor of chemical engineering at the University of Michigan, told Digital Trends.

The researchers’ approach to 3D printing is a variation on the conventional method of stereolithography (SLA). This 3D-printing method involves projecting a two-dimensional image is projected onto photoreactive liquid resin to make a defined solid layer. These can then be stacked up to create a three-dimensional object. Unfortunately, in the words of the researchers, SLA can be “painfully slow” when it comes to printing. This is due to a separation and refilling step that accompanies the curing of each layer.

In the new approach, however, the researchers have figured out how to use two lights to control where the resin hardens and where it stays fluid. This allows for the solidification of resins into more complex patterns — including making a 3D sculpture in just one single shot, rather than as a series of 2D cross-sectional layers.

“[To address this limitation,] we applied our dual-wavelength approach where one light beam was used to prevent the resin solidifying onto the projection window, while the second light beam can penetrate deeper into the liquid and solidifies the resin away from the window [where the light enters],” Mark Burns, the T.C. Chang Professor of Engineering at the University of Michigan, told us. “This process leaves liquid in the gap between the solidified part and the projection window and eliminates the need for the time-consuming separation and refilling step, thus enabling continuous printing at very high speeds.”

Scott said that the next step in the research is to expand the resin palette to include different chemistries and improved mechanical and thermal properties to build a full-scale, high-resolution prototype printer. “I think the likelihood of commercialization is very high,” he said. It’s so high, in fact, that the researchers are currently in the process of establishing a startup based on the technology.

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

Emerging Tech

How 3D printing has changed the world of prosthetic limbs forever

When he was 13 years old, Christophe Debard had his leg amputated. Here in 2019, Debard's Print My Leg startup helps others to create 3D-printed prostheses. Welcome to a growing revolution!
Smart Home

The Houzz app now lets you virtually tile your floor with augmented reality

Augmented reality is starting to be a real bonus to apps like Houzz's View in My Room 3D tool, which recently added the ability to measure how a tiled floor might look in your living space.
Smart Home

Virtually walk through dream homes with Zillow’s new A.I.-powered 3D home tours

Home sellers and real estate agents listing properties on Zillow's home marketplace now can add 3D tours for free to their listings. Zillow 3D Home uses artificial intelligence to create tours with 360-degree panoramic photos.
Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: Robots that eat landmines and clean your floors

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it's fun to gawk!
Emerging Tech

Beresheet crash caused by manual command, but reflector device may have survived

Details are emerging about what may have gone wrong with spacecraft Beresheet's failed moon landing. A manual command was entered which led to a chain reaction. But NASA still hopes to salvage use of its Laser Retroreflector Array device.
Emerging Tech

The oldest type of molecule in the universe has been located at last

A milestone in the development of the early universe was the combination of helium and hydrogen atoms into a molecule called helium hydride. But strangely enough, this ancient molecule has never been detected in space before now.
Emerging Tech

The grid of the future will be powered by … giant subterranean bagpipes?

In order to transition to a more renewable-focused energy system, we need to scale up our grid storage capacity --- and our existing methods aren't going to cut it. Could compressed air be the key?
Emerging Tech

Mercury’s wobble as it spins reveals that it has an inner solid core

Scientists have long wondered what the inside of Mercury looks like, and they now have strong evidence that the planet has a large and solid metallic core. The data for the new findings was collected by the now-defunct MESSENGER mission.
Emerging Tech

Gravitational forces at heart of Milky Way shaped this star cluster like a comet

Hubble has captured the stunning Messier 62 cluster. The cluster is warped, with a long tail which stretches out to form a shape like a comet. It is thought this distortion is due to Messier 62's proximity to the center of the galaxy.
Emerging Tech

Burgers are just the beginning: Embracing the future of lab-grown everything

You’ve almost certainly heard of the 'farm to fork' movement, but what about 'lab to table'? Welcome to the fast-evolving world of lab-grown meat. Is this the future of food as we know it?
Emerging Tech

Troubleshooting Earth

It’s no secret that humans are killing the planet. Some say it’s actually so bad that we’re hurtling toward a sixth major extinction event -- one which we ourselves are causing. But can technology help us undo the damage we’ve…
Emerging Tech

Inside the Ocean Cleanup’s ambitious plan to rid the ocean of plastic waste

In 2013, Boyan Slat crowdfunded $2.2 million to fund the Ocean Cleanup, a nonprofit organization that builds big, floating trash collectors and sets them out to sea, where they’re designed to autonomously gobble up garbage.
Emerging Tech

Climeworks wants to clean the atmosphere with a fleet of truck-sized vacuums

Using machines that resemble jet engines, Climeworks wants to fight climate change by extracting CO2 from thin air. The gas can then be sold to carbonated drink and agriculture companies, or sequestered underground.
Emerging Tech

Geoengineering is risky and unproven, but soon it might be necessary

Geoengineering is a field dedicated to purposely changing the world's climate using technology. Call it 'playing god' if you must; here's why its proponents believe it absolutely must happen.