3D printers have been around for a good amount of time at this point, but improvements in construction, cost and size have allowed them to become more mainstream. A new model of 3D printer produced at the Vienna University of Technology costs only $1700 and weighs 1.5Kg. It utilizes LED light to harden thin layers of resin slowly constructing a small 3D object. The printer is designed for precision part prototyping, and can be used for medical devices such as hearing aids.
Here is more from the press release:
The basic principle of the 3D-printer is quite simple: The desired object is printed in a small tub filled with synthetic resin. The resin has a very special property: It hardens precisely where it is illuminated with intense beams of light. Layer for layer, the synthetic resin is irradiated at exactly the right spots. When one layer hardens, the next layer can be attached to it, until the object is completed. This method is called “additive manufacturing technology”. “This way, we can even produce complicated geometrical objects with an intricate inner structure, which could never be made using casting techniques”, Klaus Stadlmann explains. He developed the prototype together with Markus Hatzenbichler.
This method is not designed for large-scale production of bulk articles – for that, there are cheaper alternatives. The great advantage of additive manufacturing is the fact that is offers the possibility to produce taylor-made, individually adjusted items. The prototype of the printer is no bigger than a carton of milk, it weighs 1.5 kilograms, and at just 1200 Euros, it was remarkably cheap. “We will continue to reduce the size of the printer, and the price will definitely decrease too, if it is produced in large quantities”, Klaus Stadlmann believes.
LED-Projector for Higher Resolution
The printer’s resolution is excellent: The individual layers hardened by the light beams are just a twentieth of a millimetre thick. Therefore, the printer can be used for applications which require extraordinary precision – such as construction parts for hearing aids. Unlike previous models, the printer at TU Vienna uses light emitting diodes, with which high intensities of light can be obtained at very well-defined positions.
In the future they hope to incorporate new materials with the device, such printable scaffolds for tissue engineering. As 3D printing becomes more affordable and portable, more and more researchers will have access to the technology to find even more new and exciting uses.
Press release: The World’s Smallest 3D Printer