Laser beams print any shape in 10 seconds
3D printing in layers is a lengthy process, but using laser light, small plastic models can now be printed quickly, accelerating the process from design to finished product.
Each layer of a traditional 3D print must harden, and that takes time, but an efficient plastic hardening method, volumetric 3D printing, can create a model in a few seconds. The method is based on particularly lightsensitive plastic. The transparent plastic is poured into a container, subsequently being stimulated by computer- controlled laser beams from three sides. Where the beams hit the plastic at the same time, it hardens.
The material hardens, when it absorbs a specific quantity of light energy, which requires all three laser beams. They make up a type of hologram – a 3D image – which materializes in the light-sensitive plastic. Scientists have only produced very small objects of no more than 1 cm3, but in principle, the process could print much larger and more complex objects by using more than three laser beams.
The method is ideal for designers aiming to find the perfect shape of a new product by testing dozens of designs with minor differences.