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Laser Inversion: Realize 3D Printing of Various Materials

Laser Inversion: Realize 3D Printing of Various Materials

Add material Manufacture

Additive manufacturing, or 3D printing, USES a digital manufacturing process to make lightweight, robust components that do not require special tools. The field has experienced strong growth over the past decade, growing at more than 20 percent a year, printing a range of components from aircraft and car parts to medical and dental implants using metals and engineered polymers. One of the most widely used manufacturing processes is selective laser sintering (SLS), which USES a laser to print components through micron-sized powders of materials. The laser heats the particles so that they fuse together to form a solid. Hod Lipson, professor, said: "Additive manufacturing is critical to economic resilience. We all care about this technology, it's going to save us, but there's a catch." The snag is that SLS technology can only print with one material at a time. The whole part must be made of only one powder. Lipson continued: "Now, let me ask you, how many products are made from only one material? The limitations of printing just one material have plagued the industry, hindering its development and reaching its full potential."

Technology and Innovation

To overcome this challenge, Lipson and his PhD candidate, John Whitehead, used their expertise in robotics to develop a new approach to overcoming these SLS limitations. By reversing the laser to point upwards, they devised a way to make the SLS work with multiple materials simultaneously. Their working prototype was accompanied by a printed sample containing two different materials in the same layer. Traditionally, selective laser sintering USES a laser pointing down at a heated print bed to fuse the particles of the material together. Solid objects are constructed from the bottom up, the printer is coated with a uniform powder, and a laser is used to selectively fuse some of the material in the layer. The printer then deposits a second layer of powder onto the first, and the laser fuses the new material with the material in the previous layer, a process that is repeated over and over again until the component is complete. The process works well if only one material is used in the printing process. But using multiple materials in a single print has always been challenging because once the powder layer is deposited on the bed, it cannot be removed or replaced with a different powder.


The value of It

"This technology could potentially be used to print embedded circuits, electromechanical components and even robot components," says Mr Lipson. It can make machine parts using gradient alloys whose material composition changes gradually from end to end, like a turbine blade, with one material for the core and another for the surface coating. We believe this will enable the manufacture of complex multi-material components that do not require assembly, allowing laser sintering to expand to a wider industry. In other words, this technology will be key to the additive manufacturing industry's transition from printing only passive uniform components to printing active integrated systems." Researchers are experimenting with metal powders and resins to directly produce components with a wider range of mechanical, electrical and chemical properties than are currently available in traditional SLS systems.

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