While large 3D-printed objects, such as cars or buildings, can cause a lot of concern, the technology is also used to produce tiny multi-faceted objects. Thanks to the new printing system, the latter will soon be shown faster and more detailed than before. If 3D printing is only a few millimeters long and contains only a fraction of a millimeter, the usual method of extrusion of molten plastic from the nozzle will not work. Instead, lasers are sometimes used to selectively harden photosensitive liquid polymers called photoresistants. The laser beam is focused in turn on a specific area of the material, creating a three-dimensional structure in the process.
According to scientists at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology in Germany, this process typically allows for the maximum printing speed of hundreds of thousands of individuals per second – the leroid is a single data point in a 3D grid, equivalent to one pixel in two pixels, a three-dimensional image. Although this may sound very fast, in fact only inkjet printers produce one-hundredth of the 2D graphics speed.
Karlsruhe’s researchers worked with colleagues at the Queensland University of Technology in Australia to design a new system that divides the usual beam of laser light into nine beams. All of these “subbeams” move independently but at the same time, with each subbeam focused on different areas of the photoresist. As a result, 3D printing speeds of about 10 million carnoids per second are possible.
In the demonstration of the system, the team printed a rectangular cube of 60 cubic millimeters, but it also had a grid-like internal structure consisting of micron-level features. This total contains more than 300 billion carines, which is reportedly a new world record.
Scientists hope that with further development, the technology will be available in the fields of optics and photonics, materials science, bioengineering and safety engineering. A paper published last month in the journal Advanced Functional Materials described the study.