The birth of 3D printing has opened up whole new worlds of possibility regarding the accessibility, cost, and sustainability of certain materials. From the creation of 3D-printed houses, hearts, and furniture, this incredible planet-saving technique is growing in popularity as each year passes.
Although the outcome of 3D printing is of course 3D, the object is actually made up of regular old 2D layers of material. The printer layers flat pieces of resin on top of each other using laser light to harden them into plastic. The problem arises in objects which have an overhang – such as a plane wing or a bridge – as they require some kind of supporting flat surface to stop the resin from falling apart.
How can 3D printing be improved?
Here is where Stanford and Harvard’s researchers jump in, creating a new method of 3D printing – called volumetric 3D printing – which allows the technique to actually live up to its name. The novel technique allows for the resin to support itself, removing the need for the complex support structure, and steps and drastically improving the speed and ease of the process.
“What we were wondering is, could we actually print entire volumes without needing to do all these complicated steps?” said Daniel N. Congreve, who worked on the project. “Our goal was to use simply a laser moving around to truly pattern in three dimensions and not be limited by this sort of layer-by-layer nature of things.”
Traditional 3D printing uses a red laser firing in a straight line along the path of light. Volumetric 3D printing instead makes use of blue laser beams scanned in three dimensions at resin containing specialized chemicals. A chemical reaction is set off in this engineered resin specifically to the blue lighting color, resulting in a viscous material that can stand support-free.
The future of volumetric 3D printing
So far, the researchers have used their printer to produce a 3D Stanford logo, a Harvard logo, and a small boat. The last is an impressive achievement for a 3D printer due to its fine details like open cabins and overhanging portholes.
The team is still working on refining the printing technology, hoping to improve its speed and ability to replicate finer details. “We’re really just starting to scratch the surface of what this new technique could do,” Congreve stated.
Source study: Nature – Triplet fusion upconversion nanocapsules for volumetric 3D printing