Apr 26, 2016 | By Kira

Disney Research has been on a serious roll with its 3D printing innovations and 3D printing patents this year. From high-res 3D printing processes, to replicating reflective properties onto 3D printed surfaces, to 3D printed wall-climbing robots, it seems as though Disney is looking to redefine how movie merchandise is made using 3D printing technology.

Its latest patent application, in fact, seems to have been created specifically for the purpose of pumping out plastic 3D printed figurines and toys faster than ever. Known as ‘Near Instantaneous Object Printing Using a Photo-Curing Liquid,’ the proposed 3D printer and 3D printing process effectively eliminates two of the biggest obstacles to high-speed 3D printing today: first, the painfully slow layer-by-layer approach, and second, the need for wasteful and time-consuming support structures.

According to the patent application, Disney’s 3D printing technology circumvents the layer-by-layer approach of conventional FDM and even SLA 3D printers by using an optical assembly that relays a volumetric 'real image' of the 3D object into a container that is filled with a photocuring liquid, or photopolymer resin.

The light associated with that volumetric image is provided my one or more light sources directed onto the target 3D object. This causes a portion or volume of the photo-curing liquid to be cured in a nearly instantaneous manner, generating the entire 3D object at once.

It is, therefore, still a stereolithography-based system, since it relies on photopolymer resins and a light-source rather than a plastic extruder. What makes it different, however, is that rather than projecting virtual images of each individual layer into the resin and hardening them one by one, this 3D printer assumes that a physical ‘original’ of the 3D object already exists and that is simply making a copy. In fact, Disney itself has referred to this iteration of the 3D printer has a “high speed 3D copying machine.”

The second exciting feature of Disney’s near-instantaneous 3D printing process is that it does away with support structures. In conventional 3D printing, if the object has any overhanging components such as the brim of a hat or outstretched arms (this 3D printed Olaf is a good example), the 3D printer is forced to generate supports that hold these overhangs up. Not only does this slow the 3D printing process, but it also requires extra material and post-processing time.

In conventional 3D printing, support structures are required to hold up overhanging elements, such as Olaf's outstretched arms

With Disney’s proposed solution, however, the uncured liquid resin serves to support the 3D object, including its overhangs. The finished 3D object therefore floats within the liquid as it is being built and can simply be lifted out of the vat once solidified.

As Disney explains, “the photo-curing resin has a first specific gravity in a liquid form and a second specific gravity when cured, and the second specific gravity may be in a range of 90 to 110 percent of the first specific gravity. In this way, the formed 3D object is supported by adjacent uncured portions of the photo-curing resin in the print chamber, and no supporting structure has to be printed.”

Impressively, using this method in several testing operations, Disney Research has proven that it is possible to 3D print objects in several minutes rather than several hours.

Until now, additive manufacturing has been touted for its ability to produce much more complex objects than traditional methods, such as injection molding, however it has thus far been unable to beat the latter in terms of mass-production speeds.

By circumventing the traditional layer-by-layer approach and the need for support structures, Disney Research’s ‘Near Instantaneous’ 3D printing technology may just be a major step forward in actually delivering on 3D printing’s promise to revolutionize the manufacturing industry.

As mentioned above, this is hardly Disney’s first foray into 3D printing innovations. Not only is it looking to mass-produce nearly infinite amounts of 3D printed Olafs, Mickeys, Cinderellas and BB-8s, Disney has also developed some very interesting technology for creating interactive, robotic, and protected 3D printed toys.

These include Disney’s Printed Optics, an approach for building functional and interactive 3D printed toys; 3D printable, walking robotic creatures3D printed soft-skins for kid-safe robots, and finally, to protect all of these licensed goods, an interesting anti-copying 3D printing technology that involves embedding IDs directly into 3D prints to prevent illegal knock-offs. They may have their eye on the next generation of 3D printed toys, but for Disney Research, 3D printing is certainly no child's play.



Posted in 3D Printing Technology



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