Researchers from UC Berkeley have developed a new 3D printer that uses light to transform a gooey resin into solid objects and does it in a matter of minutes rather than hours using traditional printers. Nicknamed the “Replicator” after the fictional technology in Star Trek, the 3D printer is capable of rendering solid objects that are more complex than what is possible from other methods of 3D printing. What’s more, you can incorporate existing objects into the print material, allowing you to create things like screwdrivers just by printing the handle.
UC Berkeley assistant professor of mechanical engineering Hayden Taylor feels the new printer is a game changer stating:
“I think this is a route to being able to mass-customize objects even more, whether they are prosthetics or running shoes. The fact that you could take a metallic component or something from another manufacturing process and add on customizable geometry, I think that may change the way products are designed.”
According to a paper published by the researchers, the Replicator works similarly to a reverse CT scan — instead of taking a series of (in this case X-ray) images to create a 3D model rendered by a computer, a 3D model is broken down into 2D pictures from every angle. Those images are then fed into a video projector that casts the images onto a photosensitive material (known as acrylate) that’s rotated during the process, stitching each image together to form a solid object as it turns.
Since the material isn’t printed layer by layer like the FDM method, the prints have a smoother surface, which cuts down the post-processing time. While the Replicator has its advantages, it also has a drawback in that the current version can only print objects centimeters in size. Future versions of the printer could see larger prints with a myriad of applications, including making on-demand custom medical components and implants for patients undergoing surgery.