Robotics

A 3D Printer. / Photo by: Getty Images

 

The use of 3D printing machines is well-known in many facilities such as laboratories, schools, and libraries. However, these machines have certain limitations in speed, size, and quality. To improve these printing tools, researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology developed an experimental 3D printing process called Rapid Liquid Printer.

Traditionally, 3D printers are slow and heavily depend on layer-by-layer designs to yield products. Although most 3D printers use cheap materials, the printing process is not scalable, meaning that they can only produce a certain number of pieces in a specific amount of time. As a result, printing a single structure from a standard 3D printer could take two or more hours.

Researchers at MIT collaborated with Steelcase, a furniture company, to develop the Rapid Liquid Printing process. In this process, the printer draws in 3D space within a gel suspension to let it produce products on a larger scale using real materials. Moreover, the products yielded by RLP are customizable, depending on the intent of the user. According to the research team, the technique could be combined with industrial materials for faster printing speed.

"We're excited to experiment with new materials [looking to create] larger printed structures and faster, more efficient processes," said Skylar Tibbits, a co-director of the Self-Assembly Lab at MIT.

The suspension gel has a composition quite similar to hair gel or a hand sanitizer that provides two essential functions. First, the gel can suspend materials that are not against the gravity, which ignore the need for layer-by-layer printing design. Second, the gel has a self-healing ability that allows continuous movement and printing within the substance, preventing unnecessary cavities or tunnels from developing in the final product.

The gel can be mixed within an hour and works immediately to print products. However, if the materials are very dense, the gel needs to be adjusted according to the materials’ composition.