Tuneable photochemistry outpaces layered approach to 3D fabrication

Tunable photochemistry has been used for the first time to fabricate 3D objects in a liquid, a development that represents a fundamentally new approach to 3D printing.

Developed by Carbon3D Inc, the new method lets objects continuously rise from a liquid media rather than being built layer by layer.

The technology reportedly allows products to be made 25 to 100 times faster than other methods and creates previously unachievable geometries that open opportunities for innovation not only in health care and medicine, but also in industries that include automotive and aerospace. 

Joseph M. DeSimone, professor of chemistry at UNC-Chapel Hill and of chemical engineering at N.C. State, is currently CEO of Carbon3D where he co-invented the method with colleagues Alex Ermoshkin, chief technology officer at Carbon 3D and Edward T. Samulski, also professor of chemistry at UNC.

Dubbed CLIP – Continuous Liquid Interface Production – the technology manipulates light and oxygen to fuse objects in liquid media, creating the first 3D printing process that uses tunable photochemistry instead of the layer-by-layer approach that has defined the technology for decades.

It works by projecting beams of light through an oxygen-permeable window into a liquid resin. Working in tandem, light and oxygen control the solidification of the resin, creating commercially viable objects that can have feature sizes below 20 microns.

“By rethinking the whole approach to 3D printing, and the chemistry and physics behind the process, we have developed a new technology that can create parts radically faster than traditional technologies by essentially ‘growing’ them in a pool of liquid,” DeSimone said in a statement.

Through a research agreement between UNC-Chapel Hill and Carbon 3D, the team is currently pursuing advances to the technology, as well as new materials that are compatible with it.

CLIP enables a very wide range of material to be used to make 3D parts with novel properties, including elastomers, silicones, nylon-like materials, ceramics and biodegradable materials. The technique itself provides a blueprint for synthesising novel materials that can further research in materials science.

Rima Janusziewicz and Ashley R. Johnson, graduate students in DeSimone’s academic lab, are co-authors on the paper and are working on novel applications in drug delivery and other areas.

“In addition to using new materials, CLIP can allow us to make stronger objects with unique geometries that other techniques cannot achieve, such as cardiac stents personally tailored to meet the needs of a specific patient,” said DeSimone, whose technology is featured in the March 20 edition of Science.