Nov 3, 2017 | By Benedict

German 3D printing company Rapid Shape and the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT have developed “TwoCure,” a new resin 3D printing process that is similar to DLP 3D printing but which requires no support structures.

Support structures are an important part of 3D printing: without them, many of your most intricate 3D printed pieces would collapse. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t incredibly frustrating.

Because while effective support structures allow complex 3D printed parts to work, they are sometimes hard to get right during the design stage, and can be even fiddlier to get rid of once printing has finished.

That automatically puts great value on any 3D printing process that purports to not require supports. Companies like Massachusetts-based Rize has built its whole ethos around the Rize One, a 3D printer that requires no supports, and others are beginning to follow suit.

Rapid Shape, a German 3D printing company, and Fraunhofer ILT, a leading German research institute, have joined forces on “TwoCure,” a new resin 3D printing process that works like DLP, but without the need for supports.

In addition to its support-free nature, TwoCure is also reportedly “significantly more efficient and productive” than other 3D printing techniques.

The collaboration is part of the Central Innovation Program for SMEs (ZIM) project, funded by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy, and represents a meeting of research and industry.

According to those behind TwoCure, the new resin 3D printing method works a lot like DLP, in which a projector is used to selectively harden layers of a photosensitive resin in a vat.

“Much like with a projector, an image is projected into the resin bath and the polymer hardens in the areas that are illuminated,” explain Holger Leonards and Andreas Hoffmann, project managers at Fraunhofer ILT. “The resin in other areas initially remains liquid.”

But the big difference between DLP and TwoCure is the two methods’ respective approaches to support structures.

“Users dislike…process-related supports because additional CAD preparation and time-consuming follow-up work delay the production process,” says Andreas Geitner, technical director at Rapid Shape.

To help out these frustrated 3D printer users, TwoCure uses a kind of hybrid technology, solidifying the liquid monomer photochemically by means of light, as well as thermally by means of cold. It’s a kind of double-curing, hence “TwoCure,” and it enables “free-floating” components to be made in the build area.

“The material is applied warm and then irreversibly cured by light,” explains Leonards. “At the same time the cooled installation space ensures that the thermoset component being created layer by layer freezes to form a block with the resin that has solidified like wax.”

In other words, the vat of resin acts as a kind of support structure in itself, because the temperature keeps it more or less solid. This waxy resin can then be liquified at room temperature, leaving only the 3D printed object(s) behind. These can then be cleaned and given the required post-curing treatment—processes that will hopefully be fully incorporated into the TwoCure process in future.

Not only does this process eliminate the need for supports, it also enables components to be positioned in the entire build volume without being connected to the platform.

“The components no longer have to be built on [a] platform,” Leonards adds. “Because the total build volume is being used more efficiently, each 3D printing job can create significantly more parts.”

According to Rapid Shape and Fraunhofer ILT, the development of TwoCure was shared equally. The former took care of procedure and systems technology, while the latter handled the material and photochemical process.

Excitingly, the first TwoCure 3D printer prototype is already up and running, and will soon be ready for series production, meaning resin 3D printing without supports could soon be commonplace.

The 3D printing tech has already been trialled for jewelry applications, with the jewelry industry standing to benefit greatly from the new process.

“Jewerly manufacturers have so far used supports to create their models and then removed them in a very laborious process before smoothing the surface,” says Andreas Schultheiss, founder and CEO of Rapid Shape. “These last two production steps are expensive and superfluous. The new process means they will not be needed in future.”

TwoCure will be demonstrated at the upcoming formnext exhibition in Frankfurt.

 

 

Posted in 3D Printing Technology

 

 

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