So we can print on the nanoscale. No biggy. But now we can print five metres per second! That’s a world record – 3D printing by this method of “two-photon lithography” used to be measured in millimetres per second! The new printing technique printed 100 layers in four minutes with an accuracy of less than 1 micrometre. This is all thanks to researchers at the University of Technology (TU Vienna) combining several new ideas.
The technique involves a special liquid resin, which hardens precisely in the center of a laser, meaning you can achieve incredible resolution using a focused laser. The resin was developed by a team of chemists led by Professor Robert Liska and involves molecules activated by the laser to induce a chain reaction in the monomers, turning them solid.
The initial activation only occurs when the initiator molecule absorbs two photons at once – something that can only happen in the center of the laser. With this technique, the solid material can be created anywhere within the resin, rather than just on top of the previous layer, which saves time compared to previous 3D printing technology since you no longer need to prepare the working surface before creating the next layer.
Another key element to the drastic increase of speed of this nano-3D printing was improving the steering mechanism of the mirrors; the mirrors are continuously in motion and the acceleration and deceleration periods are tuned very precisely in order to achieve the high-resolution results so quickly.
But what does this really mean? Well, with this breakthrough in the speed of 3D printing, the technique is now a much more viable option for the industry. It’s not such a slow and clunky option as it was before. Researchers are now adapting the technique to create bio-compatible resins for medical applications – such as the scaffolds on which living cells may grow, actual bone replacements (like the jaw reconstruction performed in the Netherlands), and even printing living organs.
This new craze of the science world may have looked like it was fun and games at first, toying with printing out random (often useless) 3 dimensional objects. Now we’re really starting to see the technology accelerate into incredible, practical and viable use!
Stay tuned folks – maybe one day we’ll be able to design the perfect child on a computer and print them out (and when you get bored of them – chuck them back in and print out a new child!) Geez, how horrific does that sound?
See a video of the printing here.
[Via Science Daily]