Additive manufacturing has taken off in recent years, but two main barriers to entry still remain. Start up cost for purchasing machines is one major hurdle for smaller manufacturers, however, this hurdle is slowly coming down. The far more hindering barrier to additive adoption is that of speed. For most mass manufacturing applications, additive manufacturing just doesn’t cut it. This means that all of the advantages of additive can’t be used on mass produced products. Theoretically, if someone could find a solution to the slow speed problem of additive manufacturing, the technology could be used in industry to an even greater extent.
In this search to speed up rapid prototyping, engineers from MIT and Steelcase created a new form of rapid prototyping. The solution the team devised is dubbed, “Rapid Liquid Printing,” and it can create objects at much faster speeds. As a machine, it works in much the same way that other 3D printing machines work. There is an extruder head and a build platform. In MIT’s new technique, however, printing occurs within a viscous gel and the extruder head excretes a solution into the gel as it glides through it. This solution material rapidly hardens on contact with the gel, and the uncured gel acts as natural support material.
This technique allowed the researchers to print large and fairly detailed objects with a far accelerated speed compared to other additive techniques. The video below released by the team demonstrates the technology in greater detail.
This liquid printing method seems to produce additively manufactured parts at much greater speeds that simple PLA extrusion or laser sintering techniques are capable of. While the visuals of the manufacturing process are nothing short of impressive, Engineering.com makes sure to point out that there are still plenty of questions left to be asked. For example, we know nothing about the material properties and strength.
While we can speculate all day long over what this newly adapted additive technique may be capable of, we will just have to wait until further results of the technology are published. If anything, this advance simply goes to demonstrate that additive techniques are a focus of much research and further advances in the industry are not far off. Adopting or even just understanding additive technologies is becoming more and more essential to furthering our engineering skills.