Layerless 3D printing technique inspired by Terminator 2

A breakthrough technique rivaling traditional 3D printing was designed by US scientists to 'grow' objects in minutes instead of hours by harnessing light and oxygen.

Inspired by an iconic scene in the film Terminator 2, where the robotic anti-hero oozes into existence from a puddle of liquid metal, scientists led by Joseph DeSimone, a chemist at the University of North Carolina, have speeded up the liquid-resin printing process.

The new Continuous Liquid Interface Production technology (CLIP) harnesses light and oxygen, making it 25-100 times faster than conventional 3D printing.

Mr DeSimone said: “Current 3D printing technology has failed to deliver on its promise to revolutionise manufacturing.”

3D printers can traditionally take several hours or even days to create an object either by building one layer at the time or by shining UV light into a bath of resin to solidify it and then pull the product upwards only to repeat the process for the next layer.

CLIP places a pool of resin over a projector that shoots UV light in the form of a series of cross-sectional images of the object. Much like a contact lens, Mr DeSimone explained, a special window between the resin and light allows both light and oxygen to travel through.

By controlling the oxygen flux through the window, CLIP creates a “dead zone” in the resin pool just tens of microns thick where photopolymerisation cannot occur. This carefully balanced tandem act forms the object as it moves upward, with new resin continuously solidifying just above the dead zone rather than in fits and starts. 

Mr DeSimone said: “Our CLIP technology offers the game-changing speed, consistent mechanical properties and choice of materials required for complex commercial-quality parts.”

The lack of layers and faster process means that the new technology could be transferred to mass-producing common products or to use materials that were not suitable for traditional 3D printing methods.

Although the printer is still a prototype, DeSimone and his colleagues also founded a new company called Carbon3D hoping to sell the technology commercially within a year.

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