Stanford researchers have developed a new 3D printing method – the iCLIP technology, that promises to produce prints faster by combining multiple types of resin in a single object. Their design, which was recently published in Science Advances, is five to ten times faster than the fastest high-resolution printing method currently available and may enable researchers to use thicker resins with better mechanical and electrical properties.
“This new technology will help to fully realize the potential of 3D printing. It will allow us to print much faster, helping to usher in a new era of digital manufacturing, as well as to enable the fabrication of complex, multi-material objects in a single step.”– Joseph DeSimone, the Sanjiv Sam Gambhir Professor in Translational Medicine and professor of radiology and of chemical engineering at Stanford and corresponding author on the paper
Controlling the flow of resin
The new design improves on a 3D printing method developed by DeSimone and his colleagues in 2015 known as continuous liquid interface production, or CLIP. CLIP 3D printing involves the use of an ultraviolet light to cure (harden) a photosensitive liquid resin that is held in a vat above the light. The build platform is initially dipped in liquid resin before being drawn upwards to literally pull the 3D object out of the resin. Unlike other resin 3D printing methods, this is a continuous process that is accomplished by adding a layer of oxygen at the bottom of the pool known as the ‘Dead Zone,’ which prevents the resin from curing at the bottom where it remains in liquid form.
However, ‘continuous printing’ does not always occur, particularly when the piece rises too quickly or the resin is particularly viscous. The researchers used this new method, called injection CLIP, or iCLIP, to add additional resin at key points by mounting syringe pumps on top of the rising platform.
“The resin flow in CLIP is a very passive process – you’re just pulling the object up and hoping that suction can bring material to the area where it’s needed. With this new technology, we actively inject resin onto the areas of the printer where it’s needed.”– Gabriel Lipkowitz, a PhD student in mechanical engineering at Stanford and lead author on the paper
Multi-material printing with iCLIP Technology
By injecting additional resin separately, iCLIP allows you to print with multiple types of resin at the same time – each new resin simply requires its own syringe. The printer was tested with up to three different syringes, each filled with a different coloured resin. They were successful in printing models of famous buildings from various countries in the colours of their respective flags, including Saint Sophia Cathedral in the blue and yellow of the Ukrainian flag and Independence Hall in American red, white, and blue.
After demonstrating that iCLIP can print with multiple resins, DeSimone, Lipkowitz, and their colleagues are developing software to optimize the design of the fluid distribution network for each printed piece. They want to give designers fine control over the boundaries between resin types, which could potentially speed up the printing process even more.
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