Most people think of 3D printing as a lengthy process that is also a test of patience. In most cases, that’s true. After all, it typically takes a long time to extrude layer after layer of material, eventually bringing an object to life.
However, researchers from Switzerland’s Ecole polytechnique fédéralede de Lausanne (EPFL) want to change that. They have developed a technique that makes it possible to 3D print models in just seconds. Furthermore, the resin-based system is able to create both hard and soft objects with remarkable detail.
Reinventing the Process
Traditional 3D printing is still a young technology. Many companies are working to enhance layer-based printing and are experimenting with new materials—even human tissue. However, the EPFL team took a different approach altogether.
Whereas most 3D printers work by adding layers on top of each other to slowly create an object from the base up, their technique creates the entire model at once.
Rather than printing with melted plastics, the EPFL team uses a photosensitive liquid resin. By blasting it with multiple lasers at carefully controlled angles, they are able to solidify the material fairly quickly. It takes about 30 seconds for the technique to bring an object to life seemingly out of thin air. Seeing it happen is more like watching a “Star Trek” replicator in action than a regular 3D printer.
The video below from EPFL demonstrates the technique and offers an explanation about how it works.
Paul Delrot is the chief technology officer of Readily3D, the company developing and marketing the EPFL system. He says, “It’s all about the light. 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.”
Fresh Way of Thinking
Normal 3D printing already has countless uses. From a place on the production line to creating human transplant organs in the lab, the ability to recreate digital models in the real-world is groundbreaking.
With this new technique, the benefits of 3D printing might become even more apparent. The research team believes it could be used to print everything from tissue to hearing aids and organs to mouthguards.
A press release regarding the EPFL method says, “The system is currently capable of making two-centimeter structures with a precision of 80 micrometers, about the same as the diameter of a strand of hair.”
Resolution of that quality is incredible—especially for a method that’s still in development. The team also believes that they are close to increasing the maximum model size to 15 centimeters sometime in the future.
With biomaterials in mind, the EPFL approach has another benefit. It can be used inside sealed, sterile containers to prevent the chance of contaminating the finished product. This will be huge for applications like organ printing.
In the field of 3D printing, innovations don’t seem to stop. Yet, this one could have an even greater impact as it has the potential to revolutionize how 3D printing is carried out.