17th February 2020
Ultra-fast 3D printing of objects
Researchers from Switzerland's Ecole polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) have demonstrated a new technique for 3D printing objects in a matter of seconds.
Conventional 3D printing techniques, known as additive manufacturing, build parts layer by layer. By contrast, the novel device developed by EPFL generates the entire volume of an object at the same time, with a resolution of just 80 micrometres (μm).
The researchers' new method – "tomographic volumetric additive manufacturing" – takes inspiration from tomography, a system used mainly in medical imaging to create models based on surface scans. The EPFL team developed a way of simultaneously solidifying three-dimensional objects by irradiating a liquid photopolymer from multiple angles with pre-computed dynamic light patterns. The effect is vaguely reminiscent of the replicators from Star Trek as this video below shows.
"It's all about the light," explains Paul Delrot, post-doctoral researcher. "The laser hardens the liquid through a process of polymerisation. 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."
The technology has advantages over existing methods – the ability to print solid parts of different textures – making it ideally suited for applications in medicine and biology, such as creating tissues and organs. The researchers teamed up with a surgeon to test 3D-printed arteries, with "extremely encouraging" results. Other possible uses might include, for example, custom-made implants for patients at dental surgeries, optometrists and other clinical facilities, created on site during their appointment.
Although incredibly fast, the system is currently limited to structures of only 2 cm (0.8"). However, objects could be scaled up to 15 cm (5.9") in the future, according to the team.
The researchers, from EPFL's Laboratory of Applied Photonics Devices (LAPD), have published their findings in the journal Nature Communications, and a spin-off, Readily3D, has been set up to develop and market the system.