New 3D Printing Method Uses Light For Faster, Stronger Models


One of the new 3D printed models made by the University of Michigan (via Martin de Beer/Burns Lab/Michigan Engineering)

A new approach to 3D printing allows users to create models up to 100 times faster than conventional processes.

Researchers at the University of Michigan created a system that lifts complex shapes from a vat of liquid, using lights to control where the resin hardens and where it stays fluid.

The team, according to a press announcement, can make a 3D bas-relief (in which design elements are barely more prominent than the overall flat background) in a single shot, rather than through a series of 1D lines or 2D cross-sections.

“It’s one of the first true 3D printers ever made,” study co-author Mark Burns, a professor of engineering at U-M, said in a statement.

And it could be a game changer for additive manufacturing in large-scale print runs.

The light-based system is more than a publicity stunt: It allows thicker resins to create for more durable objects, giving it a leg up over filament 3D-printed items, which have weak points at the interfaces between layers.

“You can get much tougher, much more wear-resistant materials,” co-developer Timothy Scott, an associate professor of chemical engineering at U-M, said.

One of the new 3D printed models made by the University of Michigan (via Martin de Beer/Burns Lab/Michigan Engineering)

The key to success is the chemistry of the resin, the University explained.

In conventional systems, a photoactivator hardens resin wherever light shines; it controls solidification on a 2D plane. The Michigan team, however, can pattern two kinds of light—using a photoactivator and photoinhibitor—to harden the resin.

Scott and Burns tested the system by printing a small-scale lattice, toy boat, and block “M.”

The University of Michigan has filed three patent applications to protect the “inventive aspects”; Scott is preparing to launch a startup company.

Read more about their research in a paper, published last week in the journal Science Advances.

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