WHY THIS MATTERS IN BRIEF
The way we manufacture products today is wasteful and unsustainable, so we’re developing new ways to make the things we love.
Recently I wrote an article about a new form of 3D Printing, called 3D Holographic Printing, printing with light not conventional materials, that was a thousand times faster than previous versions, that used rays of light and photosensitive liquids to 3D print objects in seconds, not hours or days. Now, in what increasingly looks like a race to develop the fastest printing technology, after Adidas also entered the fray when they announced their partnership with Carbon to 3D Print millions of sneakers on demand, researchers at UC Berkeley have announced that they’ve put a new twist on the technology. Dubbed the ‘The Replicator’ by its creators, referencing the famous Star Trek technology, the new device can form objects, smoother, faster and with more complex than traditional 3D printers.
Unlike its “ancestors” though the new technology also has the ability to add new materials to existing objects, for example adding a handle to a cup, and the Berkeley researchers say the printer could completely change the way products are imagined and prototyped – something that Carbon also said about their technology not too long ago.
See the technology in action
“I think this is a route to being able to mass-customize objects even more, whether they are prosthetics or running shoes,” said Hayden Taylor, assistant professor of mechanical engineering at UC Berkeley and senior author of a paper describing the printer, which appears online in the journal Science.
“The fact that you could take a metallic component or something from another manufacturing process and add on customizable geometry, I think that may change the way products are designed,” Taylor said.
Traditional 3D printers build up objects layer by layer in either plastic or metal, but the Replicator uses a gooey liquid that turns to a solid when exposed to different thresholds of light. It works when carefully calibrated light waves are projected onto a rotating cylinder of liquid which transforms the object ‘all at once’.
“Basically, you’ve got an off-the-shelf video projector, which I literally brought in from home, and then you plug it into a laptop and use it to project a series of computed images, while a motor turns a cylinder that has a 3D printing resin in it,” Taylor explained.
“Obviously there are a lot of subtleties to it — how you formulate the resin, and, above all, how you compute the images that are going to be projected, but the barrier to creating a very simple version of this tool is not that high.”
In a series of test prints, Taylor and his team made several small objects including a tiny replica of Rodin’s ‘The Thinker’. The printer can currently make objects up to four inches in diameter.
“This is the first case where we don’t need to build up custom 3D parts layer by layer,” said Brett Kelly, co-first author on the paper who completed the work while a graduate student working jointly at UC Berkeley and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.
“It makes 3D printing truly three-dimensional,” he said.
The printer’s design was inspired by CT scans used by doctors to locate tumors – CT scans work by projecting X-rays into the body from all different angles. By analysing the patterns of transmitted energy exposes the geometry of the object. Taylor said they took this idea and basically reversed it.
“We are trying to create an object rather than measure an object, but actually a lot of the underlying theory that enables us to do this can be translated from the theory that underlies computed tomography.”
The Replicators inventors have filed a patent but hope to share their knowledge with other researchers who will continue to develop the technology, and as for the field, well 3D Printing will revolutionise manufacturing, and 3D Holographic Printers could revolutionise 3D Printing – and so the dance of continuous one-upmanship and the pace of change continues to accelerate.