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New method to 3D print entire objects simultaneously, without layering

Life imitates science fiction: Engineers at Lawrence Livermore Lab have developed a new 3D method that creates entire objects in one piece instead of building them up with layering.

Developed by LLNL in collaboration with UC Berkeley, the University of Rochester, and MIT, volumetric printing replaces layering with a process that creates the entire object simultaneously. It does this by using three overlapping lasers beamed in a hologram-like pattern into a transparent tank filled with photosetting plastic resin. A short exposure by a single beam isn’t enough to cure the resin in a short time, but combining three lasers can induce curing in about ten seconds. After the object is formed, the excess resin is then drained off to reveal the complete unit.

“The fact that you can do fully 3D parts all in one step really does overcome an important problem in additive manufacturing,” says LLNL researcher Maxim Shusteff. “We’re trying to print a 3D shape all at the same time. The real aim of this paper was to ask, ‘Can we make arbitrary 3D shapes all at once, instead of putting the parts together gradually layer by layer?’ It turns out we can.”

Volumetric printing is not only faster, but eliminates the need for temporary support structures, is more flexible, and provides more geometric flexibility. So far, it’s been used to create squares, beams, planes, struts at arbitrary angles, lattices, and complex, curved objects.

The process still has problems, as the article describes. Nonetheless, this is just one more step in the invention process that is making a Star Trek replicator possible.

Hat tip reader Mike Buford.

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