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3D printing has entered a new dimension, jokingly inspired perhaps by T-1000, the shape-shifting android from Terminator 2.
A company, Carbon 3D, has actually created a revolutionary three-dimensional printing technology using liquid metal, like the character in James Cameron’s box office hit.
While conventional 3D printing consists of adding layers on top of one another, this new technique is able to print uninterrupted. It involves an innovative technology called CLIP (Continuous Liquid Interface Production) that works with a liquid medium to create forms and objects resulting in printed elements with a finer, more compact and less porous finish.
The 3D printer has a tray full of liquid resin. In the lower part, a membrane allows oxygen and ultraviolet light to pass. The oxygen blocks the normal resin solidification process, creating zones that never harden. When the ultraviolet light impacts on the resin, it reproduces layer by layer the piece designed in the computer, solidifying only the oxygen-free areas, while a special arm lifts the piece slowly out of the resin.
CLIP technology does not represent an advance on traditional printing systems, but does signify big time savings. The new printers are able to work 25 to 100 times faster than the first generation of 3D printers, meaning they can print at speeds similar to conventional paper and ink machines.
As such, it has been possible to created large objects at print speeds of over 1 meter per hour; complex, sophisticated structures like a miniature Eiffel Tower. But, by reducing the print speed, the same machine has also been able to create pieces of less than one micrometer long, finer than a human hair.
Northwestern University in Illinois presented, at the start of 2016, a new 3D liquid printer under development: a 3D printer that can incorporate metal in objects.
Using a liquid created from metallic powder, the university’s team proved it could print at a faster rate, and much cheaper, than laser or electron beams. A broad range of metals can now be used in the 3D metallic printing of composites and alloys.
These innovative technologies have launched an exciting new era for 3D printing: the age of the liquid revolution.