Jun 3, 2015 | By Simon

Although 3D printing has afforded us with the ability to create our own custom products on-demand for relatively low costs, the available technologies are not without their shortcomings.  Among others, the time it takes for a digital 3D model to be processed into a physical object that can be held in the hand leaves much to be desired; most processes take hours to produce a part.  However, all of that could soon be changing thanks to some new technologies.  

Sheffield University in the United Kingdom has recently announced that they are building a £1m 3D printer that they hope will produce plastic parts as fast as more traditional manufacturing methods - such as injection molding.

The machine - which is expected to be completed in 2017 - will use a new process that generates significantly less heat than existing additive manufacturing processes and will allow for parts to cool much quicker - which will ultimately allow for multiple parts to be printed in a matter of seconds rather than hours.  

According to Neil Hopkinson, an engineering professor at the university, the machine will be capable of “serious production of volumes over 1m, which is currently inconceivable” - in other words, the printer will be able to print parts as large as a consumer washing machine.  As for smaller parts - which will likely be more common - Hopkinson says that they will be able to be printed at the rate of less than one second per part, which is more comparable to existing injection molding processes that require expensive molds to be made up-front.  

Hopkinson - who previously taught engineering at nearby Loughborough University - is no stranger to additive manufacturing; while at Loughborough he helped develop the 3D printing technique known as high-speed sintering (HSS).  

Leveraging Hopkinson’s expertise with high speed additive manufacturing methods, the school’s new machine will print infrared-absorbing ink on to a powder bed that will be exposed to infrared light layer-by-layer.  The light will heat the powder that is covered by the ink and cause it to fuse while allowing the previously-fused layers to cool at a rapid rate.  

In addition to developing the 3D printer as an extension of their engineering program, the school is also hoping to license the new technology to industrial manufacturers.  Among others, Germany’s Voxeljet has shown an interest in a developing a machine that leverages the HSS technology by 2018.  Additionally, the school has found support from the UK government who helped align partnerships with companies including aircraft manufacturer BAE Systems, consumer goods company Unilever and ink-jet printhead maker Xaar.  

While it’s unknown when we’ll see our first glimpse of the machine is use - it’s safe to say that the world is ready for high speed 3D printing and the technology couldn’t come any sooner.  



Posted in 3D Printers


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eugene wrote at 6/6/2015 5:38:05 AM:

Great, but where is the speed of production line?

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