A new state of the art 3D printer can make objects 100 times faster with light, scientists revealed.
The breakthrough promises to revolutionise small scale manufacturing by make batch production of goods produced in one quick go even easier.
Currently 3D printers build up plastic filaments layer by layer, creating 3D objects with a series of one dimensional lines.
The technique means small-scale manufacturers can produce fewer than 10,000 identical items without the need for an expensive mould costing upwards of $10,000 (£7,800).
However, the process is still slower and hasn't been able to fill the gap on typical production timescales of a week or two.
Experts from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor developed the new approach, which lifts complex shapes from a vat of liquid at up to 100 times faster than conventional 3D printing processes.
Associate Professor of chemical engineering Timothy Scott said: 'Using conventional approaches, that's not really attainable unless you have hundreds of machines.'
The new 3D printing approach developed with Professor of chemical engineering and biomedical engineering Mark Burns solidifies the liquid resin using two lights to control where the resin hardens and where it stays fluid.
This enables the team to solidify the resin in more sophisticated patterns.
They can make a 3D bas-relief in a single shot rather than in a series of 1D lines or 2D cross-sections.
Their printing demonstrations include a lattice, a toy boat and a block M.
Professor Burns added: 'It's one of the first true 3D printers ever made.'
Earlier vat-printing efforts faced limitations because the resin tended to solidify on the window that the light shines through, stopping the print job just as it gets started.
By creating a relatively large region where no solidification occurs, thicker resins -potentially with strengthening powder additives - can be used to produce more durable objects.
The method also bests the structural integrity of filament 3D printing, as those objects have weak points at the interfaces between layers.
Professor Scott said: 'You can get much tougher, much more wear-resistant materials.'
An earlier solution to the solidification-on-window problem was a window that lets oxygen through which penetrates into the resin and halts the solidification near the window.
This left a film of fluid that will allow the newly printed surface to be pulled away.
But because this gap is only about as thick as a piece of transparent tape, the resin must be very runny to flow fast enough into the tiny gap between the newly solidified object and the window as the part is pulled up.
This has limited vat printing to small, customised products that will be treated relatively gently, such as dental devices and shoe insoles.
By replacing the oxygen with a second light to halt solidification, the team can produce a much larger gap between the object and the window - millimetres thick - allowing resin to flow in thousands of times faster.
The key to success is the chemistry of the resin.
In conventional systems, there is only one reaction. A photoactivator hardens the resin wherever light shines.
In the Michigan system, there is also a photoinhibitor, which responds to a different wavelength of light.
Rather than merely controlling solidification in a 2D plane, as current vat-printing techniques do, the team can pattern the two kinds of light to harden the resin at essentially any 3D place near the illumination window.
University of Michigan has filed three patent applications to protect the multiple inventive aspects of the approach, and Professor Scott is preparing to launch a startup company.
This article has been adapted from its original source.
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