Researchers build new volumetric 3D printing design

Volumetric 3D printing creates parts by overlapping three laser beams that define an object’s geometry from three different directions, creating a hologram-like 3D image suspended in the vat of resin. The laser light, which is at a higher intensity where the beams intersect, is kept on for about 10 seconds, enough time to cure the object.

While additive manufacturing (AM), commonly known as 3D printing, is enabling engineers and scientists to build parts in configurations and designs never before possible, the impact of the technology has been limited by layer-based printing methods, which can take up to hours or days to build three-dimensional parts, depending on their complexity.

However, by using laser-generated, hologram-like 3D images flashed into photosensitive resin, researchers have discovered they can build complex 3D parts in a fraction of the time of traditional layer-by-layer printing. The novel approach is called “volumetric” 3D printing.

The approach results in parts built many times faster than other polymer-based methods, and most, if not all, commercial AM methods used currently. Due to its low cost, flexibility, speed and geometric versatility, the researchers expect the framework to open a major new direction of research in rapid 3D printing.

The technique does have limitations. Because each beam propagates through space without changing, there are restrictions on part resolution and on the kinds of geometries that can be formed. Extremely complex structures would require lots of intersecting laser beams and would limit the process.