Pushing the Limits of 3D Printing Technology

Recently, I talked about how I can't seem to get away from 3D printing news. This week, there was far more news on that front, albeit with a slightly out-there twist.

At the same time CAD and design tool vendors are teaming up with low-cost 3D printer manufacturers and 3D print service providers, researchers are experimenting with novel ways to push the technology even further. I came across two pretty novel examples -- one that applies 3D printing principles using chocolate as the medium, and another that uses sunlight as the raw energy and sand as the materials for 3D printing.

First up is the Solar-Sinter, a 3D printer created by Markus Kayser, an MA student at the Royal College of Art in London. After creating a solar-powered version of a laser cutter machine, dubbed the Sun-Cutter, and testing it out in the Egyptian desert, Kayser got the idea for the Solar-Sinter -- a machine he envisioned would bring together the two elements that dominate in the world's deserts: sun and sand. The Solar-Sinter uses the sun's rays in place of a laser to recreate a 3D printer's heating process that converts a powdery substance (in this case, silica sand) to material that allows particles to adhere to each other -- what is commonly known as sintering.

"By using the sun's rays instead of a laser, and sand instead of resins, I had the basis of an entirely new solar-powered machine and production process for making glass objects that taps into the abundant supplies of sun and sand to be found in the deserts of the world," Kayser wrote in a blog entry
describing his experiment.

He first tested the solar-sintering machine in February in the Moroccan desert, and, based on those results, went on to build a larger and fully-automated, computer-driven version -- the Solar-Sinter. That system was also tested, this time in the Sahara desert, and Kayser is pleased enough with the results; he's positing we'll eventually see a whole generation of solar-powered production tools.

Sand and sun are sexy, as far as sustainability goes, but what about chocolate -- the ultimate feel-good food? Well, chocolate is the centerpiece of a new 3D printer project coming out of the University of Exeter in England, in collaboration with Brunel University and Delcam, a maker of CAD/CAM software.

The research team devised new temperature and heating control systems that could accommodate chocolate, given it has historically been a difficult material to work with because it requires such accurate heating and cooling cycles. The team has also designed a consumer-friendly interface, so users can design their own chocolate objects. This is yet another example of the maker revolution at work, fueling what looks to be a growing trend away from mass-produced goods to unique designs created by individual consumers.

Comments (0)

Please log in or to post comments.
  • Oldest First
  • Newest First
Loading Comments...