In the beginning, people questioned the necessity and affordability of computers. They were clunky, slow and expensive. It was unimaginable that one day the average person would ever own a personal computer. Yet now we own several laptops, phones and tablets. This once unattainable technology is literally at one’s fingertips. 3D printing technology is receiving the same skepticism. It may seem like something out of a science-fiction movie, but it’s real and it has the capability to revolutionize the manufacturing industry.
While 3D printing is a fairly new concept to most, additive manufacturing has actually been around since the 1980’s. Hideo Kodama and Chuck Hull invented the first 3D printing process called stereo-lithography, which enabled a 3D object to be created from digital data. In 1992, the first stereo-lithographic machine was built by 3D Systems that enabled 3-dimensional parts to be created layer by layer. By the late 1990’s, scientists had developed the first lab-grown organ. It would be implanted in humans undergoing urinary bladder augmentation using a 3D synthetic scaffold coated with the patient’s cells. This led to the development of printing actual organs, and since they are made with the patient’s own cells it almost eliminates the risk of organ rejection.
By 2009, Maker Bot Industries began selling DIY kits that allowed people to build their own 3D printers and print objects at home. In 2011, the first 3D printed robotic aircraft was built and in 2012 the first 3D printed prosthetic jaw was implanted. The possibilities are endless with this technology.
You may be wondering how it’s possible to print a 3D object. We’re familiar with inkjet printers that lay down a layer of ink to form words on a page. 3D printing works in the same fashion, but instead of laying down one layer of ink, it lays down thousands upon thousands of layers of material to produce a 3D object. This process of layering is called fused deposition modeling (FDM).
Stereo-lithography, mentioned earlier, is another type of 3D printing in which the object is made from a pool of resin and lasers. Finally, there’s powder deposition printing in which an object is created by applying layers of binding agent to a powdered material.
All three types of processes require a digital design to be uploaded or downloaded to a computer. The file is then sliced into multiple layers and then the entire file is sent to the 3D printer.
Downsides to 3D printing
One major downside to 3D printing technology is the amount of time it can take to print an object. A single printed piece can take several hours, even days, to produce. In addition, the layer by layer process can lead to mechanical errors which will result in a structurally weak object. But the great thing about 3D technology is that it’s constantly changing and improving.
Like Something Out of a Movie…Literally
Joseph DeSimone, a chemist at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, gave a TED Talk on a new, revolutionary 3D printing method and how it’s become a game-changer for 3D printing. This revolutionary 3D printing method is called continuous liquid interface production (CLIP) and it was inspired by the movie Terminator 2, specifically the scene where the T-1000 rises from a pool of liquid metal. The goal was to invent a method that allowed people to “create something out of a puddle in essentially real time with essentially no waste.” According to DeSimone, this new method of 3D printing would eliminate the three major drawbacks to traditional 3D printing – slow speed, mechanical errors and limited choice of printing material.
He goes on to explain the use of polymer chemistry that is the foundation of this method. Light and oxygen are opposites from a chemical point of view. While light has the power to convert a liquid to a solid, oxygen inhibits this process. So CLIP basically controls the amount and intensity of UV light and oxygen that permeates a pool of resin.
The special combination of UV light to oxygen creates a “dead zone” in which there is a thin layer of material that remains a liquid that in turn enables the growth of the 3D object.
The remarkable thing about this new method is that it’s 25-100 times faster than traditional 3D printing. DeSimone believes that it could one day be 1,000 times faster. CLIP also eliminates the layering process and therefore objects are created with completely smooth surfaces. Another benefit of CLIP is that you’re able to control the object’s mechanical properties such as elasticity, strength and durability.
Many times in traditional 3D printing the CAD (computer-aided design) file is unable to be manufactured because the parts don’t have the properties necessary to be a final product. CLIP eliminates this problem by customizing the mechanical properties of the final product.
“CLIP allows anyone to produce commercial quality parts at game-changing speeds, creating a clear path to 3D manufacturing.”
Technology evolves slowly in the beginning stages of its development and before we know it, it explodes into something we can’t imagine living without – computers, automobiles, light bulbs. Printing a 3D object seems like a drag, for now. Having to wait several hours for one object doesn’t exactly sound like the most exciting thing, especially since we can do a million things with just the click of a button. But CLIP is definitely a promising step in the right direction. Who knows, maybe in the next decade it will be completely normal for the average person to have a personal 3D printer.
What’s the most impressive 3D printed object you’ve seen? Let us know in the comments below!
One of our very own 3D printers.
Check out the latest 3D printing technology in action!
Joseph DeSimone gives a fascinating Ted Talk on his revolutionary contribution to 3D printing technology.