The problem with the 3-D printer “revolution” is that it’s so slow. A regular 3-D printer takes hours or days to output a large and complex shape. That’s fine if all you want is to print a replacement button for your jacket, but if you want to manufacture, say, prosthetic arms for fast-growing kids, then time matters. The Intelligent Liquid Interface printing process cuts print times down to minutes.
The process, from Canada’s NewPro 3-D, uses photopolymerization like many other 3-D printers. The usual procedure involves a UV laser that’s shone onto the surface of a bath of resin, curing the resin one layer at a time. As a layer is completed, the printed object moves down into the vat and a blade wipes a new layer of resin across the face of the object, ready to be cured.
The Intelligent Liquid Interface adds an extra layer, a “transparent wettable membrane between the photo-curing resin and the light source.” This takes the place of the blade, because it continuously draws fresh resin onto the surface of the object. Instead of having to pause every time for the blade to swipe across, like a knife buttering toast, the printer can run without stopping. This allows it to print an object in 4.5 minutes that would take other methods from 180 minutes to 11.5 hours to complete. Here you can see it in (sped-up) action:
The advantages are obvious. Faster printing is not only more efficient, it also makes owning a printer cheaper. A 3-D print shop either needs to accept slow print times or buy lots of machines to run in parallel. With this method, the shop can run fewer machines. In design labs, rapid prototyping becomes way more rapid, and with machines that run orders of magnitude faster, new uses open up. You still may not need one at home, but if your local hardware store could offer the choice of thousands of, say, decorative doorknobs, printed on demand, wouldn’t that make your life better?