New 3D Printing Technology - Objects Grow from a Pool of Liquid
What is TED?
TED stands for Technology, Education and Design. It's a nonprofit organization whose goal is to spread new ideas, primarily through short speeches given by people who have something thought provoking to share.
An impressive and exciting new 3D printing technology was demonstrated at TED 2015 in Vancouver, British Columbia. The technology uses ultraviolet light and oxygen to create an object from a pool of liquid resin. As shown in the videos below, the object appears to "grow" from the liquid, reminiscent of the creation of the T1000 from the Terminator 2 movie. In fact, the CEO of the company that created the printer says that he was inspired by this movie.
The new technology is exciting because it has the potential to revolutionize 3D printing. It enables strong, functional and attractive objects to be printed rapidly in an all-in-one process. These abilities are lacking in the current technology.
In current 3D printing methods, a medium is deposited in layers in order to gradually build an object. Printing an object can be a time consuming process, taking hours or even days to complete. In addition, because the printed object is made of layers that are fused together, the final product sometimes lacks strength. The layers may also be visible in the final product, giving the object a banded appearance.
Even with its limitations, 3D printing has had some very useful applications. The applications may dramatically increase in number in the near future. The new printing technique creates an object continuously instead of in layers and offers the ability to overcome the problems of traditional 3D printing.
Printing a Lattice Shape with CLIP Technology (7X Speed)
The Carbon3D Company
Carbon3D, Inc. is a startup company based in Redwood City in California. Based on the staff descriptions on the Carbon3D website, the company is run by some highly qualified and experienced people.
The CEO of Carbon3D is Joseph DeSimone. He's on leave from his position as Chancellor's Eminent Professor of Chemistry at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and from his other academic positions. His team consists of chemists, engineers, computer scientists and business people.
Chemistry, engineering and computer science are involved in the printer's action. The object is created by starting and stopping chemical reactions. The equipment that allows this to happen in an engineering feat. The instructions that "tell" the equipment what to do are provided by a computer program.
The company calls their new printing technique CLIP technology. CLIP stands for Continuous Liquid Interface Production. Carbon3D has been in operation since 2013 but has kept their endeavours secret - or at least unpublicized - until now.
We think that popular 3D printing is actually misnamed - it's really just 2D printing over and over again.— Joseph DeSimone, CEO of Carbon3D, Inc.
Printing a Mini Eiffel Tower in Six Minutes with CLIP Technology
What is "Curing" in Materials Technology?
The term "curing" refers to the hardening of a liquid by the formation of polymers and the creation of cross-links (bonds) between the polymers. Curing is triggered by the addition of energy, such as ultraviolet light or heat, or by the addition of certain chemicals.
CLIP 3D Printer Structure
In CLIP technology, a build platform moves upwards, pulling a gradually-forming shape out of a container of liquid. The liquid - at least in the demonstration printers - is a resin that is curable by UV light.
At the bottom of the container of liquid resin is a transparent window that is permeable to oxygen. Underneath the window is a projector that emits ultraviolet light. The Carbon3D company likens the window to a contact lens, since it allows both light and oxygen to pass through it and enter the resin. The combination of light and oxygen allows a 3D object to be created in the resin.
Differing Effects of Ultraviolet Light and Oxygen on the Resin
Ultraviolet light triggers polymerization in the resin. In this process, molecules join to form long chains called polymers. Cross-links (chemical bonds) form between the polymer chains. As the polymers and cross-links form, the resin solidifies. Oxygen has the opposite effect on the resin. It stops the formation of polymers and prevents solidification.
Joseph DeSimone Interviewed at TED 2015
How Does CLIP 3D Printing Work?
In a CLIP printer, a continuous sequence of cross sectional images from a 3D graphics model is projected into the resin. The images are sent in the form of UV light patterns.
A very thin layer of resin just above the window in the resin container is rich in oxygen. The oxygen entered the resin through the window. The oxygen-rich layer doesn't polymerize as UV light passes through it and is referred to as the dead zone.
The resin just above the dead zone lacks oxygen and does polymerize when the light strikes it, forming a solid according to the shape of the projected UV image. The solid is slowly pulled out of the liquid resin as it forms, allowing more low-oxygen liquid resin to move into position above the dead zone.
Because there is always liquid below the developing object, the object doesn't stick to the bottom of the container. In addition, the object is both created and pulled upwards continually and smoothly without any pauses. These factors prevent the formation of layers and bands in the finished product.
The printer needs instructions that control its actions, "telling" it how to translate a 3D graphics model into a real object. These instructions are supplied by sophisticated computer software that controls the variables involved in the printing process.
Potential Benefits and Problems of CLIP Technology
Some Possible Benefits
CLIP printing is 25X to 100X faster than present techniques. (The process may eventually reach 1000X times faster than conventional 3D printing.) This is a highly significant increase and should end a lot of the frustrations over the time needed to create a 3D object. It should also greatly increase the number of applications for 3D printing, allowing custom built items to be printed whenever we need them.
In addition, the all-in-one printing method should create a stronger object, depending on the printing medium that's used. Printed parts have consistent properties and look much more like injection-molded parts than the usual 3D printed items. The new technology can also make flexible and rubbery objects.
Some Possible Problems
So far, Carbon3D has only demonstrated printing with a resin. The company says that the CLIP technique will work with many other media that contain polymers or can polymerize, including elastomers. These are very useful polymers that are elastic, as their name implies. Some people wonder about the scope of the printer, however, because it's limited to media that can be polymerized by light.
Another potential limitation is that the printer demonstrations that have been shown involve small printers that produce small objects. Questions have been raised about the ability of the new technology to produce larger objects and about how long this will take.
Joseph DeSimone's TED Talk
Joseph DeSimone's TED 2015 talk is available on the TED website.
The Future for CLIP Technology
Carbon3D says that the beta version of its printer is already being used by select companies and institutions. The company also says that the final version of the printer should be created before the end of the year and that the printer should be available for sale within twelve months. At the moment, the selling price of the printer is undecided.
Joseph DeSimone predicts many possible benefits of the printer. In the future, doctors may be able to create stents of the correct size for a patient during an operation. (Stents are used to keep blood vessels open.) Dentists may be able to print implants while a patient is sitting in a dentist's chair. Car parts and other manufactured goods may be produced rapidly whenever they're needed.
There are many ideas in technology that don't live up to their expectations and fizzle out. There are also ideas that are successful and allow technology to take a leap forward, sometimes improving our lives significantly. The new 3D printing technology may be one of the latter ideas. It will be very interesting to see if this is true.
© 2015 Linda Crampton
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