Overclocked crystal could make 3D printing 1,000 times faster

1 Nov 2016

3D printer and filament. Image: Bas Nastassia/Shutterstock

In one of the latest breakthroughs in the exciting field of photonics, a team of researchers has developed a new beam-scanning technique that could make 3D printing 1,000 times faster than current methods.

While much loved for its ability to create practically anything with some material and a design concept, 3D printing remains a relatively slow process, with larger items sometimes taking a whole day to print.

For this reason, a number of attempts to speed up the process have focused on developing whole new techniques of printing, but now a team of photonic researchers has turned to crystals to help solve the problem.

According to Pennsylvania State University, its researchers have developed a very sophisticated, high-speed beam-scanning technique that could take printing speeds into overdrive.

By using a space charge-controlled KTN beam deflector – a kind of crystal made of potassium tantalate and potassium niobate – with a large electro-optic effect, the team has been able to increase the speed of 2D and 3D printing by up to 1,000.

This was no easy task however, as the team’s research came across a stumbling block when the beam’s phase transition of the electric field limited the deflector’s capability.

Also useful for medtech

To overcome this, the team cranked up the KTN crystal to work at higher temperatures, thereby eliminating its electrical field and magnetic properties – surpassing the so-called Curie temperature – beyond the point where a liquid and vapour can coexist.

By ‘overclocking’ the crystal, the scanning speed moved from the microsecond range to the nanosecond range.

So far, this technique has been found to improve high-speed imaging, broadband optical communications, and ultra-fast laser display and printing.

Publishing the findings in Scientific Reports, lead researcher Shizhuo Yin said this could allow a 3D printer to create something that once took an hour, in just one minute.

Similarly, the method would be capable of printing 20,000 2D pages in just one minute.

Yin said it could also have uses within medtech as it would be allow for the creation of a 3D image of patients’ retinas as they are performing the surgery, so they can see what needs to be corrected during the procedure.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic