In what has been hailed as a breakthrough, scientists at University of California, Berkley and LLNL (Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory) have unveiled 3D-printer, which can profile objects with the help of the light rays in 3D Printing.
The scientists have nicknamed this 3D printing technology, the “replicator” in honor of the famous Star Trek contraption, which could create objects on demand. This 3D-printer is far superior to the earlier 3D-printers as it is capable of creating intricate objects that are incredibly smooth, and flexible, which was just not possible with regular 3D printing.
The Power of Light rays in 3D Printing
It is a revolutionary creation of light rays in 3D Printing which makes easy to convert gelatinous liquids into something very complex and solid objects within a few minutes. This new 3D Printer has the capability to change the way in which the prosthetics and eyeglass lenses were made.
While this new technology can transform viscous liquids into objects, most importantly, it can also encase an already existing product with new material. For example, the researchers placed a screwdriver shaft within the resin, then used the 3D-printer to fabricate the handle, which the current 3D-printers were literally unable to do.
Enabling Mass Customization of Objects
Hayden Taylor, assistant professor of mechanical engineering at the University of California, Berkeley said, he believed that this was the route that would enable mass-customization of objects further….This would include everything right from prosthetics to running shoes.
The very fact that one could take any metallic component or something from the other manufacturing process and add on customizable geometry will change the way the products will be designed in the near future.
The New Technology- How it works
While most 3D-printers including other light-based techniques build 3D objects step-by-step and layer-by-layer, this new technology relies on a viscous fluid, which reacts with a certain threshold of light rays in 3D printing to form a solid object.
It is something like someone has got a video projector that is literally brought from home. The images are projected through the laptop, while the motor is turning the cylinder which contains the 3D printing solution.
Apparently, there are a lot of intricacies involved in it; how one formulates the resin, and, more importantly, how one computes the images that are going to be projected.
This is the first case where one does not have to build up custom 3D parts in layers or one after the other. It has made 3D printing truly three-dimensional.
The innovative 3D-printer tech takes its inspiration from CT (Computed Tomography), where in X-rays exposes the tissue and bone structure by penetrating the body through different angles. Here the scientists reversed the principle – where earlier the object was measured, they now formed one.
The process is called CAL (Computed Axial Lithography) and starts with a model of CAD (Computer-Aided Design). The scientists make use of the projected photons are used by the researchers to light up the viscous resin. As the vial rotates, it creates a constantly shifting video of images. These projections are calculated at every angle. Next, optimized algorithm is run by the researchers. This results in serial images that appear as rotating video. This video can be subsequently viewed at a rate calibrated to offset the vial’s rotation. These projections form a suspended 3D object in the resin like a reverse CT scan. The 3D structure is visible after some time, post which the exposure is stopped by the scientists and uncured liquid is drained out, thus giving the finished output. The scientists demonstrated that they could illuminate different projections into the resin by using a projector, precisely 1,440 (implying that one degree will comprise of four beams in a 3D space) while it rotates instead of using numerous laser beams.
Liquid polymers mixed with photosensitive particles along with dissolved oxygen form the 3D printing resin. Light triggers the photosensitive molecules thus depleting the oxygen. Polymers form the ‘cross-links’ mainly in those 3D regions in which the oxygen is completely used up. These ‘cross-links’ convert the resin into solid from its liquid form. This technique also does not generate any material waste and the uncured material that is left behind is 100 percent reusable. The unused resin is reusable after heating in a controlled oxygenated atmosphere. This is one of the major advantages that comes with support-free 3D printing.
The researchers have used a dye to print opaque objects. This dye transmits light rasy in 3D printing at the curing wavelength, but absorbs most of the other wavelengths.
New Hope for Science
This is particularly interesting as it creates a new framework of volumetric or ‘all-at-once’ 3D printing that has been established over the recent years. It is hoped that this will pave the way for other scientists to explore this exciting technology further.
Till date, the researchers have produced a number of items with the help of the new printer. These range from a Rodin’s tiny model “The Thinker” to a custom made jawbone model. The printer is currently limited to producing articles of about four inches (10.16 centimetres) in diameter but will not stay limited for too long.
It is pertinent to note that invention of light rays in 3D printing would need to be refined quite a bit before it could catch up with traditional 3D printing in terms of marketability, but it’s already showing a lot of promise and could become very useful in a variety of applications.