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This light-powered 3D printer materializes objects all at once

3D printing has changed the way people approach hardware design, but most printers share a basic limitation: they essentially build objects layer by layer, generally from the bottom up. This new system from UC Berkeley, however, builds them all at once, more or less, by projecting a video through a jar of light-sensitive resin.

The device, which its creators call the replicator (but shouldn’t, because that’s a MakerBot trademark), is mechanically quite simple. It’s hard to explain it better than Berkeley’s Hayden Taylor, who led the research:

Basically, you’ve got an off-the-shelf video projector, which I literally brought in from home, and then you plug it into a laptop and use it to project a series of computed images, while a motor turns a cylinder that has a 3D-printing resin in it.

Obviously there are a lot of subtleties to it — how you formulate the resin, and, above all, how you compute the images that are going to be projected, but the barrier to creating a very simple version of this tool is not that high.

Using light to print isn’t new — many devices out there use lasers or other forms of emitted light to cause material to harden in desired patterns. But they still do things one thin layer at a time. Researchers did demonstrate a “holographic” printing method a bit like this using intersecting beams of light, but it’s much more complex. (In fact, Berkeley worked with Lawrence Livermore on this project.)

In Taylor’s device, the object to be recreated is scanned first in such a way that it can be divided into slices, a bit like a CT scanner — which is in fact the technology that sparked the team’s imagination in the first place.

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