Why it matters: Researchers from EPFL’s Laboratory of Applied Photonics Devices (LAPD) in Switzerland have developed a groundbreaking 3D-printing method that could upend an entire industry.
Conventional 3D printing involves building an object from the ground up, layer by layer, through a process known as additive manufacturing. It’s effective, but also quite tedious and the resolution, or level of detail, usually isn’t all that great.
This new technique is based on the principles of tomography. It starts with a vat of transparent liquid – either liquid plastic or a biological gel, depending on the desired output – that gets inserted into the printer. It starts spinning and, almost as if by magic, the object starts to appear in the container. In about 30 seconds, it’s all done.
Damien Loterie, CEO of Readily3D (the company set up to help develop and market the technology), said it’s all about the light. A laser is used to harden the liquid in the vat through a process called polymerization. “Depending on what we’re building, we use algorithms to calculate exactly where we need to aim the beams, from what angles, and at what dose,” he added.
At present, the new technique can make two-centimeter objects with a precision of 80 micrometers, or the diameter of hair. In the future, however, they expect to be able to print structures up to 15 centimeters.
Potential use cases are aplenty. Christophe Moser, head of the LAPD, said it could be handy in creating small silicone or acrylic parts that don’t need finishing after printing. There’s also promise in the fields of medicine and biology as it could be used for soft objects like hearing aids and mouthguards.