Fascinating New 3D Printer Using Rays of Light Has the Potential to Change Product Design

The new printer transforms liquid to solid using rays of light light to shape objects.

University of California, Berkeley has developed a new type of 3D printer that uses rays of light to turn liquids into solids in a matter of minutes. Dubbed the ‘The Replicator’ by its creators referencing the famous Star Trek technology; the new device can form objects, smoother, faster and with more complex than traditional 3D printers.

Star Trek Replicator

It also has the ability to add new materials to existing objects, for example adding a handle to a cup. 

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Fascinating New 3D Printer Using Rays of Light Has the Potential to Change Product Design
Source: UC Berkeley

The UC Berkeley researchers say the printer could completely change the way products are imagined and prototyped.

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“I think this is a route to being able to mass-customize objects even more, whether they are prosthetics or running shoes,” said Hayden Taylor, assistant professor of mechanical engineering at UC Berkeley and senior author of a paper describing the printer, which appears online today (Jan. 31) in the journal Science. 

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Printer opens possibilities for new types of design ideation

“The fact that you could take a metallic component or something from another manufacturing process and add on customizable geometry, I think that may change the way products are designed,” Taylor said.

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Traditional 3D printers build up objects layer by layer in either plastic or metal.

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The Replicator uses a gooey liquid that turns to a solid when exposed to different thresholds of light. It works when carefully calibrated light waves are projected onto a rotating cylinder of liquid which transforms the object ‘all at once’. 

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Fascinating New 3D Printer Using Rays of Light Has the Potential to Change Product Design
Source: UC Berkeley

“Basically, you’ve got an off-the-shelf video projector, which I literally brought in from home, and then you plug it into a laptop and use it to project a series of computed images, while a motor turns a cylinder that has a 3D printing resin in it,” Taylor explained.

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“Obviously there are a lot of subtleties to it — how you formulate the resin, and, above all, how you compute the images that are going to be projected, but the barrier to creating a very simple version of this tool is not that high.”

3D printing becomes truly 3D

In a series of test prints, Taylor and his team made several small objects including a tiny replica of Rodin’s ‘The Thinker’. The printer can currently make objects up to four inches in diameter.

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“This is the first case where we don’t need to build up custom 3D parts layer by layer,” said Brett Kelly, co-first author on the paper who completed the work while a graduate student working jointly at UC Berkeley and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

“It makes 3D printing truly three-dimensional.” 

The printer's design was inspired by CT scans used by doctors to locate tumors, CT scans work by projecting X-rays into the body from all different angles. By analyzing the patterns of transmitted energy exposes the geometry of the object. 

Taylor said they took this idea and basically reversed it.

“We are trying to create an object rather than measure an object, but actually a lot of the underlying theory that enables us to do this can be translated from the theory that underlies computed tomography.”

The Replicators inventors have filed a patent but hope to share their knowledge with other researchers who will continue to develop the technology.

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