A 3D printing machine capable of rapidly producing anything from aerospace components to running shoes as cheaply as traditional manufacturing techniques is being developed in Yorkshire.
The machine, being built at Sheffield University, will be able to produce plastic parts three times larger and 100 times faster than existing comparable 3D printing, or additive manufacturing (AM) machines.
Crucially, it is also the first AM device capable of producing parts as cheaply as conventional injection moulding techniques, according to its developer Prof Neil Hopkinson in the Faculty of Engineering at Sheffield University.
The technology is based on a process known as high speed sintering (HSS), developed by Hopkinson while at Loughborough University, in which a polymer powder is selectively fused together layer by layer, to produce a specific shape.
But unlike existing AM techniques, in which a laser is used to fuse the powder, HSS uses an infra-red-absorbing ink. This ink is printed onto the powder bed in the desired pattern, and an infra-red lamp is shone onto the powder, said Hopkinson.
“The energy from the lamp is absorbed by the ink, which gets hot, melting the particles that are lying underneath,” he said.
Meanwhile the rest of the powder, which has not been printed on with the ink, remains cooler, he said.
The machine will be capable of producing parts of up to one cubic metre, or approximately the size of a washing machine.
The researchers estimate that small components could be produced at a rate of less than one second per part.
The machine, which is being developed with funding from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, will be built at Sheffield’s Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre. It will then be transferred to the university’s Centre for Advanced Additive Manufacturing for further research.
Meanwhile, the technology is being licensed to machine manufacturers by Loughborough University, and the researchers expect to see the first systems on the market within the next few years.