3D printing, as known as additive manufacturing, has been developing at rapid speed to exert more convenience in various industries. However, due to certain limits, it always takes a long time to get prints out from the printing machine. As Joseph DeSimone, the CEO of Carbon3D, said “3D printing always takes forever. There are mushrooms that grow faster than 3D prints.”
With two-year research collaborated with his partner on the 3D printing area, Joseph DeSimone shared the research findings at TED talks. He considered that 3D printing is a misnomer, which in fact is a repetitive 2D printing process. Let’s imagine ink-jet printer making letters on papers, and continue doing it over and over again, layer and layer added, thus taking a long time to build up a 3D object. Besides, the layer by layer process leads to defects properties. Moreover, material choices are far too limited. If we could use self-curing material, more breakthroughs can be pulled off.
They pondered over all those questions and problems faced by 3D printing when they got inspired by a Terminator 2 scene from T-1000. Why couldn’t a 3D printer be operated in this fashion? We had an object arising out of the liquid with essentially real-time completion and no waste to make great objects. Whether we could get this to work would be our true challenge.
The approach they applied in the research was to use standard knowledge in the field of polymer chemistry to harness light and oxygen for uninterrupted manufacturing. Light and oxygen work in different ways. Light converts the liquid resin into a solid, which converts the liquid into a solid. Oxygen can inhibit this process. Therefore, from a chemical point of view, the effects of light and oxygen are opposite to each other. If we can control light and oxygen three-dimensionally, we can control the production process (CLIP).
CLIP has three functional components. The first is a container for storing liquids, just like the robot T-1000 in Terminator 2. There is a special window at the bottom of the container. Component 2 is a platform that can be lowered into the container to pull the object straight out of the solution. The third part is a digital light projection system located below the container to provide illumination in the ultraviolet light area. The key is the window at the bottom of the container. A very special window is not only transparent but also oxygen permeable. Nature is similar to contact lenses.
With the special window, we can let oxygen enter from the bottom. When the light hits oxygen, oxygen will inhibit the reaction and form a dead zone. The dead zone is about a few tens of microns thick, about two or three times the diameter of the red blood cell, and it can still remain liquid at the window interface. Then we pull the object out. The thickness of the non-sensitive area can be changed by changing the oxygen content.
The result was very staggering, which was 25 -100 times faster than traditional 3D printers. In addition, with the improved ability of the control interface liquid adjustment, he believed that the printing speed can be 1000 times faster. As a result, water-cooled 3D printers may appear in the future because printing is too fast. Because of our growing manufacturing method, the traditional laminate manufacturing is abandoned, the integrity of the components is improved, and you can't see the surface layer to the structure.
A smooth surface at the molecular level can be obtained. When you print in a growing manner, the characteristics of the object do not change due to the orientation of the print. These look more like pour parts, which is quite different from traditional 3D manufacturing. In addition, we can use the knowledge of the entire polymer chemistry textbook to design the right chemical materials to create the characteristics you really expect in a 3D printed part.
In this way, we can produce ultra-high-strength materials, high strength to weight ratio, true ultra high strength materials, and truly superelastic materials. These are great material properties.
The immediate opportunity is that if the results produced can be the final product and can be transformed at the speed of the industry, it can really change the face of manufacturing. In the current manufacturing industry, the so-called "digital line" is being applied in the field of digital manufacturing. We range from CAD drawing and design to prototyping to manufacturing.
It is often the case that digital line production is stuck in the prototyping process because it cannot be manufactured directly because most of the components do not have the characteristics of being the final product. Now we can connect every step of the digitization line from design and prototyping to manufacturing. This opportunity really opens up the possibility of making all kinds of items. For example, it is possible to reduce the fuel consumption of a car by using a high-strength weight ratio mesh type material, a new turbine blade, and many other superior parts.
In a word, this real-time manufacturing technology that makes parts manufacturing a finished product really opens the door to 3D manufacturing. For us, this is very exciting because it really realizes the interaction between hardware, software, and molecular science.