The speed of light has entered 3D printing. Engineers at Northwestern University have developed a new method that uses light to increase the speed and accuracy of 3D printing, while also combining it with a high-precision manipulator so that each layer can be moved, rotated, or expanded freely while constructing the structure.

Most traditional 3D printing processes rely on copying digital design models, which are cut into multiple layers, then printed and assembled upwards like a cake. The Northwestern method introduces the ability to process the original design layer by layer and pivot the printing direction without recreating the model. This “real-time” function can print more complex structures and greatly improve manufacturing flexibility.

Engineers use light to improve 3D printing speed and accuracy

Sun Cheng, associate professor of mechanical engineering at Northwestern University’s McCormick School of Engineering, said: “The 3D printing process is no longer just a method of copying design models.” “Now we have a dynamic process that uses light to assemble everything. Layer, but has a high degree of freedom in the process of movement.”

Sun led the research, which is located at the intersection of his two main research areas: nanofabrication and optics. The research was published by Advanced Materials on February 3.

In the paper, the researchers demonstrated several applications, including 3D printing customized vascular stents and printing soft pneumatic clamps made of two different materials, one is hard and the other is soft. There are also two double helixes and a small Eiffel Tower in the study.

Northwest Technology uses a robotic arm and a liquid photopolymer that is activated by light. The precise 3D structure is drawn from the liquid resin bath by a high-precision robot. Compared with the traditional printing process, it has higher geometric complexity, efficiency and quality. The support arm is used to dynamically change the printing direction.

Sun said: “We are making use of light.” “Light on the liquid polymer will crosslink or polymerize it, thereby turning the liquid into a solid. This helps to increase the speed and accuracy of the 3D printing process, which is Two main challenges faced by traditional 3D printing.”

The continuous printing process can print 4,000 layers in about two minutes.

Sun said: “This is a very fast process, there is no interruption between layers.” “We hope that the manufacturing industry can benefit from it. Conventional printing methods are compatible with a variety of materials.”

Looking to the future, Sun said that the printing process can be applied to other additive manufacturing and traditional subtractive manufacturing processes to provide a bridge for true hybrid processes.

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