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November 21, 2013

New Process Cuts 3D Print Time From Hours To Minutes

[ Watch The Video: 3D Printing Multi-Material Objects ]

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

Researchers at the University of Southern California have developed a new 3D printing process, and are using it to model and fabricate heterogeneous objects comprised of multiple materials in minutes instead of hours.

3D printing has the potential to transform industries by providing faster, cheaper and more accurate manufacturing options. However, the lengthy fabrication times and complexity of multi-material objects have long been an obstacle to its widespread commercial use.

In the current work, USC Professor Yong Chen and his team were able to reduce the fabrication time to just minutes, bringing the manufacturing world one step closer to achieving its goal.

“Digital material design and fabrication enables controlled material distributions of multiple base materials in a product component for significantly improved design performance. Such fabrication capability opens up exciting new options that were previously impossible,” said Chen, professor in the Daniel J. Epstein Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering at USC and the study’s lead researcher.

Traditional modeling and prototyping approaches used to take days to complete. But over the past several decades various additive manufacturing (AM) processes have been developed to fabricate both homogeneous and heterogeneous objects more quickly. Existing AM processes such as multi-jet modeling, which creates a solid 3D object from a digital model by laying down successive layers of material, can fabricate a complex object in a matter of hours.

Last year, Chen and another team of USC researchers improved an AM-related process known as mask-image-projection-based stereolithography (MIP-SL) to dramatically accelerate the fabrication of homogeneous 3D objects. MIP-SL process begins with a 3D digital model of an object, which is then sliced by a set of horizontal planes. Each slice is then converted into a two-dimensional mask image, which is projected onto a photocurable liquid resin surface. Light is then projected onto the resin to cure it in the shape of the related layer.

The team also developed a two-way movement design for bottom-up projection, so that the resin could be quickly spread into uniform thin layers - cutting production time from hours to a few minutes.

In the current work, Chen and his team successfully applied this more efficient process to the fabrication of heterogeneous objects that comprise different materials that cure at different rates.

This new process allows heterogeneous prototypes and objects such as dental and robotics models to be fabricated in less costly and more time-efficient ways than ever before, the researchers said.

Chen and his team now plan to investigate ways to develop an automatic design approach for heterogeneous material distribution according to user-specified physical properties, and to find ways to improve the fabrication speed. The researchers presented their findings at ASME’s 2013 International Mechanical Engineering Congress and Exposition in San Diego on Wednesday.