September 14, 2011
Futuristic 3D Printing Already Here?
Three-dimensional printing seems like a sci-fi theory, but researchers at one educational institution have had the ability to do so for many years.
MIT professors Michael Cima, now the Sumitomo Electric Industries Professor of Engineering, and Emanuel Sachs, now the Fred Fort Flowers and Daniel Fort Flowers Professor of Mechanical Engineering, patented one of the first practical 3D printers (3DP) in 18 years ago.
Since then, their idea has evolved to create objects made of plastic, ceramic and metal and Cima says 3DPs are being used "all over the world."
“The slow step in product development was prototyping. We wanted to be able to rapidly prototype surgical tools, and get them into surgeons´ hands to get feedback," Cima said in a press release.
The technology involves building up shapes gradually, one layer at a time.
A layer of powder is spread across the metal platform, and then a print head similar to an inkjet printer deposits a binder liquid onto the powder.
The system can make all types of shapes, while different combinations of powders and binders could make a variety of materials.
The printers can create “anything you can make from powders: ceramics, metals, plastics,” Cima says.
Over the years the printer has evolved, and now it can print by using a variety of materials and colors. The researchers said it also has the ability to print metal objects.
Peter Schmitt, a visiting scientist at the Media Lab, says he is pushing for 3DP to "building machines that could build machines."
Research institutions and various companies throughout the world have used the 3DP printers to produce anything from prosthetic limbs to nanoprinting.
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