We are all waiting for the 3D printing technology to go down in price and size. Last year, you can assemble the MakerBot Thing-O-Matic for $1,300, however it still doesn't fit to an office environment. 12" x 12" x 16" size takes centain amount of space, and the process of extruding plastic materials requires a lot of heat. At the Vienna University of Technology, a smaller, lighter and cheaper printing device has now been developed.
This smallest 3D printer weighs 1.5 kilograms, it costs around 1500 Euros. If the size of the printer get smaller, the prices will also get lower when it is produced in big quantities. At that time everyone can just afford it.
The device was assembled by mechanical engineers in the research group of professor Jürgen Stampfl, but also the chemical research by the team of professor Robert Liska was of crucial importance: first, chemists have to determine which special kinds of synthetic material can be used for printing.
Principle from the 3D printer (from the source)
Layer for Layer
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.
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.
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