UC Berkeley, Livermore Lab researchers create updated 3D printer model

Computer and high tech machine sit on counter.
Hayden Taylor/Courtesy

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A report released by researchers from UC Berkeley and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in the journal Science on Thursday outlined the design of a new 3D printer that allows objects to be printed more quickly than previous printers, with smoother surfaces and no sacrificial support structures.

Researchers Brett Kelly, Indrasen Bhattacharya, Hossein Heidari, Maxim Shusteff, Christopher Spadaccini and Hayden Taylor developed this 3D printer, which can create solid materials all at once, as opposed to layer by layer, using light.

This new method of 3D printing, officially known as computed axial lithography, or CAL, has been given the nickname “the replicator” by its developers after a machine in “Star Trek” that could print objects out of thin air, according to co-author Heidari.

The printer is made using a video projector and a cylindrical glass container filled with a light-sensitive material that can rotate. The projector shines patterns of light into the material, which determine the shape of the end product. The printer uses a 3D exposure profile that makes some regions in the material convert to a solid, leaving the rest of the resin a reusable liquid.

Past 3D printing techniques involve creating an object by building a structure one layer at a time, creating a steplike pattern. If a structure has overhangs, they need to be supported by additional structures. Comparatively, the solid object formed by CAL is smooth and does not need support structures, meaning there is less wasted material.

“In our case, we can kind of say that we are waste-free because we can recover whatever is being used in the process and use it in another one,” Heidari said.

This new technology also creates the possibility of printing material around a pre-existing object, something that previous 3D printers cannot do. CAL reduces production time, which, according to Taylor, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at UC Berkeley and the corresponding author of the paper, can help reduce the use of energy and the cost of production.

“I think one thing that we are really excited about exploring is ways in which (CAL) can help with biological tissue engineering,” Taylor said.

Bhattacharya, a co-first author, echoed these sentiments, adding that there could be many biological applications in prosthetics and surgical planning.

Kelly, another co-author, elaborated that this new printer can create very soft structures that previous 3D printers cannot achieve, as the layering process of older printers could deform the structures. “The replicator” would be able to bioprint very soft tissue and potentially create custom eyewear.

“(CAL) sounds like it’s an improvement on what they used to have, so it sounds like it’s a good thing,” said campus sophomore Kerry O’Connor.

Contact Boyce Buchanan at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @BuchananBoyce.