A new printer known as the ‘replicator’ could soon make the innovative and futuristic 3D printers a thing of the past.
3D printers came about in the early 1980’s and were considered a modern miracle. They work by depositing a material, such as plastic, layer by layer to reproduce a 3D generated computer image. Since their humble beginnings, and massively expensive prices, in which they were only able to produce functional prototypes they have since made significant advancements in precision. With such precision and the relatively lower prices they have become common place for the production of anything and everything from aerospace and automotive to medical.
However, researchers in California have now unveiled a new 3D printer known as the ‘replicator’. Based on tomography – which is the process of obtaining a 3D image of non-visible ‘internal’ structure by combining planar ‘2D’ images or slices to produce a resulting 3D image. Such techniques are traditionally used in medical diagnostics tools like X-ray imaging or Computerized Tomography (CT) scans, in which a narrow beam of X-rays sweeps across a specific area of the body and records the radiation absorption as a series of electrical impulses. These varying impulses represent the variation in densities which can then be used to build a picture of the previously invisible internal structure.
A team of scientists working with tomography technology realized that the process could be reversed. So instead of building a 3D image from a set of 2D images, a 3D image is used to create the constituent 2D images as if seen from many angles. A digital video projector is then used to output the images, as computed intensity modulated projections, on to a time-sequenced rotating resin-filled cylinder. The photosensitive resin solidifies on contact with certain intensities of light, such that when illuminated with a dynamically evolving light pattern the projected light effectively materializes entire objects at once. The method is known as Computed Axial Lithography (CAL) and although in its infancy it promises a wealth of possibilities – it’s as if the objects are materializing from the vacuum itself.
By: Amira Val Baker, RSF research scientist
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