3D printing is important for engineering as it allows parts to be manufactured on site, to exact specifications. It’s now possible for engineering firms to design, supply, and improve their own materials and components. 3D printing processes have reduced the time it takes for designers and engineers to design and test protoypes, meaning new innovations can be introduced to the market at a faster rate.
Most 3D printers build up objects layer by layer, operating essentially in a two-dimensional plane. This leads to a stair-step effect, where the edges are rigid, sharp, and visibly layered. The components must be solid, as flexible structures would likely deform. This has limited the kinds of projects that can be undertaken with a 3D printer.
A new technique used in 3D printing uses rays of light to shape liquid resin at a hundred times faster than older techniques.
It uses two lights to control which elements of the resin harden and which stay fluid, allowing for greater control over the entire printing process. Carefully designed patterns of light allow the desired shape to form and solidify all at once, rather than layer by layer.
The chemistry of the resin allows for the initial reaction: photoactivation that causes the resin to harden in the presence of the light, but also includes a photoinhibitor which responds to a different wavelength. This means the printing process can be controlled in 3D, rather than just 2D. This means the components can be more flexible, durable, and more complex than traditional printed components.
Developing the technology that allows this to work was incredibly difficult. Complex calculations are required to get the exact pattern and intensity of light at the right time, as well as ensuring the liquid is solidifying at the right rate. This all revolves around having the perfect ‘threshold’ of light which triggers the transformation.
The resin is made of liquid polymers mixed with photosensitive molecules. A certain wavelength of light activates the photosensitive compound, which depletes oxygen present in the liquid, and only when all the oxygen is gone do the polymers form links that transform the liquid into a solid.
Unused resin can be recycled, meaning there is virtually zero waste.
Nicknamed ‘the replicator’ after the machine in Star Trek that can fabricate any materials or object, this new technology promises to revolutionise the additive manufacture industry.
The additive manufacturing industry is relatively new, but has had a big impact on the engineering industry.
This new technology threatens to disrupt the technological landscape, as it can also encase existing objects in new material, opening up new possibilities for upgrades or reinforcements. It brings us one step closer to being able to order fully-customisable, fully-designed items.
This could change the way products are designed at the start of the process. Soon 3D printing will be a cornerstone of the manufacture process, rather than just the prototyping stage. It’s already possible for large projects to be entirely 3D printed, and we’re only going to see more products with 3D printed elements.Manufacturing and Production jobs