A near quarter-century old sci-fi action film starring Arnold Schwarzenegger is the inspiration behind a technique that’s about to revolutionize 3-D printing.
Many of us remember being blown away by the special effects blockbuster “Terminator 2: Judgement Day” in the early ’90s, particularly the ability of actor Robert Patrick, a.k.a. evil terminator T-1000, to shapeshift into virtually anything as a result of his liquid metal makeup (if you missed it the first time around, Lee Byung-hun is reprising the same villain in the forthcoming “Terminator: Genisys” reboot).
The now-legendary film was the inspiration behind a new 3-D printing technique developed by Carbon3D, which publicly unveiled the technology for the first time Monday night during a TED Talk with the developer and the publication of a paper in Science breaking down the procedure.
“We think that popular 3-D printing is actually misnamed — it’s really just 2-D printing over and over again,” Carbon3D co-founder Joseph DeSimone said, according to a Washington Post report. DeSimone is also a chemistry professor at the University of North Carolina and North Carolina State.
“The strides in that area have mostly been driven by mechanical engineers figuring our how to make things layer by layer to precisely create an object. We’re two chemists and a physicist, so we came in with a different perspective.”
They call their technique “continuous liquid interface production technology” (CLIP), and it works by creating whole objects out of a liquid base with light and oxygen, rather than the traditional process of slowly printing layer after layer of an object.
CLIP starts out by pouring a pool of liquid resin over a digital light projector, which features a surface that acts like a contact lens to allow controlled amounts of light and oxygen through. Light acts as a hardening agent and oxygen a softening, and the system carefully controls both to form complex shapes and structures 25 to 100 times faster than traditional 3-D printing.
“We delineate critical control parameters and show that complex solid parts can be drawn out of the resin at rates of hundreds of millimeters per hour,” the paper’s abstract states. “These print speeds allow parts to be produced in minutes instead of hours.”
According to the founders, stepping beyond layer-style printing, which takes a long time in order to minimize flaws, will improve the production of smoother, smaller delicate sensors used in electronics and sensitive drug delivery systems like microneedles.
“These hurdles mean that 3-D printing can be amazing for making prototypes, but just not as good for creating a commercial product in a lot of applications,” Carbon3D chief marketing officer Rob Schoeben said. “That’s what we’re most interested in changing.”