By Kevin Samson
The marvel of 3D printing is still in its infancy, especially in regards to being understood by the masses. Its many applications, however, are already beginning to transform the medical and manufacturing fields – not to mention 3D-printed weapons – ushering in low-cost methods of production as well as increasing the diversity of products that can be designed.
But for 3D printing to transform the lives of everyday individuals, the cost of high-quality 3D printers that can produce useful items still needs to drop dramatically. While this has steadily been happening, the cost is still greatly prohibitive for most people.
A new technique is being studied at the University of Bristol, UK that takes us one step closer to producing useful items right from our homes while making a quantum leap in providing low-cost access to many more people.
Researchers have uncovered a way to harness ultrasonic waves to form a microstructure that adds strength and range to the items that can be produced.
The study published in Smart Materials and Structures creates and demonstrates a novel method in which ultrasonic waves are used to carefully position millions of tiny reinforcement fibres as part of the 3D printing process. The fibres are formed into a microscopic reinforcement framework that gives the material strength. This microstructure is then set in place using a focused laser beam, which locally cures the epoxy resin and then prints the object.
Best of all, this technology is housed in a small module that can be mounted on a standard, low-cost 3D printer, turning it into a much more complex composite printer that is currently seen only at much higher price points at the industrial scale.
Tom Llewellyn-Jones, a PhD student in advanced composites who developed the system, said: “We have demonstrated that our ultrasonic system can be added cheaply to an off-the-shelf 3D printer, which then turns it into a composite printer.”
This approach allows the realisation of complex fibrous architectures within a 3D printed object. The versatile nature of the ultrasonic manipulation technique also enables a wide-range of particle materials, shapes and sizes to be assembled, leading to the creation of a new generation of fibrous reinforced composites that can be 3D printed.
Researchers note that this technique will enable people at home to print high-performance products, rather than the current novelty items that are more project-based for those inclined to tinkering. Think sporting equipment and replacement parts for a range of electronics … though they also cite airplanes as an illustration of the true complexity that can be generated by using this new technology.
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The key to understanding the significance of 3D printing is that it offers the power of creativity to more individuals. When this happens, we can begin decentralizing industries that have monopolized technology and imposed high prices through lack of competition. Imagine how healthcare alone could be self-directed instead of being the imposed financial burden that it has become. The barriers that could be broken down in housing, manufacturing and education will be limited only by our imagination.
If enough people gain the knowledge about the level of freedom that new technologies are offering, a much more positive future appears to be easily within our reach. Please share your thoughts and any additional information you have about 3D printing in the comment section below.
Full press release available here.
Paper: 3-D printed components with ultrasonically arranged microscale structure by Thomas M. Llewellyn-Jones, Bruce W. Drinkwater, Richard S. Trask in Smart Materials and Structures [Open Access]
Kevin Samson writes for ActivistPost.com. This article may be freely reproduced in part or in full with author attribution and source link.