An Incredible New 3D Printer Is 100X Faster Than What Was Possible: Video

"It’s one of the first true 3D printers ever made."

All 3D printing tends to get lumped together, but there are actually two specific styles with some pretty significant distinctions. Fused deposition modeling (FDM) is a faster, but less accurate, method achieved by layering melted plastic into a shape. Stereolithography, (SLA), sacrifices speed for precision by using an ultraviolet laser to harden a liquid resin. That trade-off limited 3D printing’s potential: You could either slowly print actually useful parts and objects, or rapidly print mostly useless trinkets. But thanks to a recent breakthrough from tag team of researchers, SLA has now become equally as fast as its counterpart.

Before this breakthrough, it was only worth using the SLA method to print small objects, like kitchen utensils. But, fortunately, two researchers at the University of Michigan have managed to significantly increase the speed of this technique, so much that it could potentially be used to print large objects, like furniture, without having to wait weeks or even months.

In their recent paper, co-authors Timothy Scott and Mark Burns describe how they managed to achieve a maximum sprint speed of 2 meters per hour, roughly 100 times faster than was previously possible. That’s on par with state-of-the-art FDM machines, making SLA a viable option for mass production with a lower chance of mistakes. Their paper was published in journal Science Advances on January 11.

Some of the objects that were printed to test the new, high-speed SLA method.

Martin de Beer, Burns Lab, Michigan Engineering
Martin de Beer, Burns Lab, Michigan Engineering
Martin de Beer, Burns Lab, Michigan Engineering

Before this research, SLA machines had to use beams of light to harden a liquid plastic layer by layer. But Scott and Burns’ method simply uses one precise flash of light to solidify an entire object in just one step. The duo tested their process by creating a tiny model boat, a small segment of an interlocking fence, and, of course, a 3D sculpture of the UMich “M” logo.

“It’s one of the first true 3D printers ever made,” says Burns in a statement.

3D printing has the potential to revolutionize mass production because it eliminates the need for injection molds, which could save companies tens of thousands of dollars per part. American mold manufacturer Rex Plastics sells them them for $12,000 a pop on average. These components ensure that every piece that comes out is identical to the last, but Scott and Burns’ technique can achieve this while bypassing the need for molds entirely. Plus, SLA is makes for more structurally sound items.

There are other advantages as well. Objects created by FDM machines have tiny weak points between each of their layers. This isn’t that big of a deal when you’re making small sculptures or models, but if companies want to sell 3D printed tables or work toward printed structures, there can’t be any danger of collapse. Scott and Burns’ technique skips the layers step, thus eliminating these weaknesses.

This leveled-up SLA 3D printing is only in its test phase, but the University of Michigan has filed three patents for the tech, and Scott is gearing up to launch a startup. We could soon not only see 3D printed homes, but 3D printed homes filled with 3D printed furnishings, too. And it’ll all be stronger, and much faster, than we’d previously imagined.