Science 2 min read

New 3D Printing Tech Shapes Objects Using Light

This newly created 3D printing tech, nicknames the "Replicator", can produce smooth, complicated objects in ways no other modern 3D printer can. With its light-based production process, it could be the future of 3D printing.

The Thinker replica created by the UC Berkeley and LLNL researchers using their new 3D printing technology | UC Berkeley/Nature

The Thinker replica created by the UC Berkeley and LLNL researchers using their new 3D printing technology | UC Berkeley/Nature

Researchers from the University of California, Berkeley and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory recently developed a new 3D printing tech that prints smooth, intricate objects not possible with existing 3D printers. Inspired by the classic Star Trek series, they nicknamed the device the “Replicator”.

To date, conventional 3D printing processes create objects by lining plastic or metal materials layer by layer. Unfortunately, this method leaves visible stair-steps along the edges of the object, making surfaces uneven or rough.

However, UC Berkeley and LLNL researchers’ new 3D printing technology uses Computed Axial Lithography (CAL) that eliminates the rough or jagged edges and surfaces of its 3D objects. It creates the object at once and not layer by layer as what current 3D printers do.

Read More: 5 Industries Revolutionized By 3D Printing

The New 3D Printing Tech

According to the researchers, their 3D-printed objects are more versatile and can accommodate bendable objects without the need for support to hold it in place. It can also add new or other materials to an existing object like adding a handle to a cup.

Lead researcher Hayden Taylor noted that the capabilities of their 3D printing tech allow it to create anything from prosthetics to eyeglass lenses in full detail.

“I think this is a route to being able to mass-customize objects even more, whether they are prosthetics or running shoes,” Taylor said.

The team’s “Replicator” is like a computed tomography scanner (CT scanner) that works in reverse. The device has a cylinder that rotates to match the angle of the image projected onto it. Then, the resin solidifies as it absorbs photons, creating the 3D object.

The resin used by the scientists is made up of light-sensitive particles and dissolved oxygen that rotates in place as light hits it. The oxygen depletes as light hits the resin, allowing the molecules to form cross-links and harden. The unused liquid can also be recycled, the team said.

“Our technique generates nearly no material waste, and the uncured material is 100 percent reusable – another advantage that comes with support-free 3D printing,” Hossein Heidari, one of the researchers from Taylor’s lab in UC Berkeley, explained.

At the moment, the team’s 3D printer can only produce objects within a diameter of four inches.

Read More: Reef Design Lab is Using 3D Printing to Save the Coral Reefs

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Rechelle Ann Fuertes

Rechelle is an SEO content producer, technical writer, researcher, social media manager, and visual artist. She enjoys traveling and spending time anywhere near the sea with family and friends.

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