3D printing is one of the technologies that are said to bring future to today. Modern printers can use variety of materials and print at a reasonably huge scale and accuracy, but 3D printing mostly is used for prototyping and models. But now scientists at the University of Bristol have developed a new 3D printing method, which allows using composite materials – ones used in making many high performance products such as aeroplane parts or sports equipment.
Usually such products are made using fibre – glass or carbon fibre ensures that product is strong and light. Current 3D printers cannot use fibre and work on using more liquid substances. The new technique uses ultrasonic waves, which carefully position millions of tiny reinforcement fibres during the printing process. Fibres get aligned into a microscopic structure, which allows on making very strong parts. Then laser beam locally cures the epoxy resin and then prints the designed object.
Even more impressive is the fact that scientists did not have to invent a completely new 3D printer – they used an available three-axis 3D printing stage. They fixed a switchable, focused laser module on the carriage and then mounted entire system on the new ultrasonic alignment apparatus.
Tom Llewellyn-Jones, developer of the system, said: “We have demonstrated that our ultrasonic system can be added cheaply to an off-the-shelf 3D printer, which then turns it into a composite printer”. Researchers already demonstrated that printer is almost as fast as before the modifications and that precise orientation and alignment of fibres can be achieved by simply turning on the ultrasonic standing wave pattern mid-print. By changing orientation and amount of fibre, scientists can fine-tune the properties of the final product.
Possibilities of this system are endless. Not only system is capable of making such objects as tennis rackets, golf clubs and aeroplane parts, but it can also be used to manufacture resin-filled capsules for self-healing materials or piezoelectric particles for energy harvesting. Scientists will continue the research to reveal the full potential of the system.