Although 3D printing may be revolutionizing the world of manufacturing, it still takes rather a long time to do when compared to some of the alternatives. A collaboration between MIT's Self-Assembly Lab, Steelcase and product designer Christophe Guberan, however, has resulted in a new technique known as Rapid Liquid Printing – it can reduce the time of some 3D print jobs from hours to minutes.
Normally, 3D-printed objects have to be built up on a platform one layer at a time. In some cases, supporting structures need to be added during the build process, which are subsequently removed and discarded.
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With Rapid Liquid Printing, though, the print nozzle extrudes a polymer material directly into a container of translucent gel. That gel holds the material in place, so no supporting structures are necessary. It's sort of like being able to draw the object in mid-air, except it's in mid-gel.
Additionally, while some traditional 3D printing materials must be cured via exposure to heat or UV light, the two-part material used in Rapid Liquid Printing chemically hardens upon contact with the gel. Once the object has been printed – and its size is limited only by the size of printer and gel container – it's simply pulled out and rinsed off.
The technology was recently showcased at Milan Design Week, in the form of an intricate Rapid Liquid Printed coffee table top that took 28 minutes to print. In another experiment, an object that reportedly would have taken 50 hours to print using traditional methods was Rapid Liquid Printed in just 10 minutes.
The build time does vary depending on factors such as design, however, and it does look like Rapid Liquid Printing – for now, at least – is best-suited to soft-edged lattice-like structures. To that end, MIT and Steelcase are now working on refining the technique, and exploring the applications to which it's best suited.
For more information, check out the following video.