Researchers from the EPFL have developed a new high-precision 3D printing process that allows the printing of very small, soft objects. The key feature of the new 3D printing method is that the process is very fast, taking less than 30 seconds from start to finish. The team says that their new process has a wide range of potential applications, including 3D bioprinting.
Researchers believe that the tech could have innovative applications in a wide range of fields. However, the advantages the new print method offers over existing methods, such as the ability to print solid parts of different textures, make it ideally suited for medicine and biology. Making soft tissue like organs, hearing aids, and mouthguards are potential applications for the process.
One researcher says that the process could be used to make delicate cell-laden scaffolds that allow cells to develop in a pressure-free 3D environment. The team has worked with a surgeon to test 3D printed arteries made using the technique. The printing process sends a laser through a translucent gel that can be a biological gel or a liquid plastic.
The laser hardens the liquid via a process called polymerization. Algorithms are used to calculate exactly where the laser needs to aim, from what angles, and the dose. Currently, the system can make 2cm structures with a precision of 80 micrometers, about the same size as a strand of hair. Printing larger objects up to 15cm will be possible as the team develops new devices.
The process could also produce small silicone or acrylic parts that don’t need finishing after printing. They believe that interior design could be a lucrative market for the new printer. There is no indication of when or if the process might be commercialized.