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In a sense, 3D printing as you know it is a lie -- it's really stacking a series of 2D layers on top of each other, rather than forming a single object. That's where Carbon3D might come to the rescue. It just unveiled a 3D printing technique, Continuous Liquid Interface Production, that creates true, contiguous 3D items by blasting a resin pool with bursts of light (which hardens the resin) and oxygen (which keeps it in a liquid state). As the Washington Post notes, the approach both looks like and was inspired by the shapeshifting T-1000 robot in Terminator 2 -- solid objects emerge out of an amorphous goo.
The unusual method isn't just for show, of course. Since you don't need to craft items layer-by-layer or worry about eliminating seams, you can print objects 25 to 100 times faster than usual; that figurine you want could be ready in minutes, not hours. Also, the smoother, stronger output is much better suited to real-world uses, such as irritation-free medical implants. There's no mention of when Carbon3D's technology will land in something you can buy, but the potential impact is huge. You could craft 3D-printed goods at home that are much closer to commercial quality, and you wouldn't even have to wait long to hold the finished product in your hands.
3D printing, or additive manufacturing, has the potential to revolutionize how we make things, enabling custom production of almost anything you could want. Researchers are looking into applications of 3D printing ranging from printing entire houses to artificial human organs. But 3D printing hasn’t fully caught on yet, in part due to the time-consuming nature of the process—it typically relies on building items up through a layer-by-layer approach that can take many hours. For additive manufacturing to become more generally useful, printing speeds need to increase by an order of magnitude.
A team of researchers at UNC-Chapel Hill have developed a new 3D printing process that may be fast enough to change the tide for 3D printing. Their process allows for the continual printing of objects using a liquid interface in a single step, unlike the previous step-wise processes.
To accomplish this, these scientists took advantage of a problem typically associated with 3D printing methods that relies on light to initiate polymerization (photo-polymerization): the ability to control oxygen levels. When present, oxygen reacts with the polymerizing chains, which significantly slows down the reaction. Oxygen must therefore be limited for the curing process, which hardens the product. In 3D printing, the material is typically printed in air and cured under a UV light; since oxygen is likely present, this process is slower than it could be.
The new technique proceeds by projecting a continuous sequence of UV images through the bottom of an oxygen-permeable, UV-transparent window. The window is below a liquid resin bath that is essentially a solution of chemical reactants. This window allows a small amount of oxygen to enter, creating a “dead zone” where the curing process cannot proceed. As a result, the dead zone maintains a liquid interface directly above it. The UV images then pattern the structure as it emerges from the dead zone.
The advancing part is attached to a build support plate located above the resin bath, which continuously moves upward as the part is printed below. This allows constant renewal of reactive liquid resin that the part is built out of. Overall, the process looks a bit like pulling a solid object out of a liquid bath—one that can be much shallower than the object being pulled.