Ask the average person, and chances are there are fewer pieces of technology that cause more of a headache than printers. There is a reason that Apple became notorious for their back-to-school deal that paired every new MacBook with a free printer. Yet in spite of what has, at times, felt like frustratingly stagnant technology, printers have finally begun to push into the next stratosphere with the advent of 3D printing.
Printing Pros and Cons
The printers have seen their fair share of pushback. While some say that the technology could be lifesaving—3D modelling for organ replacements, more accurate medical imagining, dissolvable medication, for example—others have been concerned about more insidious behaviour, such as the detailed printing of weapons, especially guns and bullets. But beyond the speculative concern (the technology remains highly specified), most gripes regard something far less dangerous: time. 3D printers may be revolutionary, but most agree that they take much too long to actually make anything, a testament to its attention to detail. But the development of a new holographic printing technique could be the solution to that very problem.
Light-based 3D printing makes it possible to create something in as little as two seconds, using lasers to enhance the print by adding a layer of resin that hardens into a kind of usable pattern. The laser shines through the layers of liquid resin, but with holographic light the laser isn’t quite strong enough to cure the layers, meaning layers harden one by one, which is what takes time. Instead, weaker lasers combine in order to create a thicker laser, which cures more layers at once. The overlapping beams of light are stronger together than they are apart – much like sound waves or radiation – which allow them to apply intensity to some areas instead of others.
This is, needless to say, a bold step forward for a technology that has existed for enough to have entered the public imagination, but is still limited by the question of broad application. The ability to control where the three beams of light intersect and meet, in effect allowing for more exact and faster solidification, may sound esoteric. However, the gist is: holographic printing makes 3D printing a potentially more accessible endeavour.
Imagine being a small business that specialises in the making of something as random as gears, perhaps for clocks or internal mechanisms. This new breed of 3D printer has the potential design and print those same structures, making specialised gears that would usually require a shipment order. Shapes that once demanded a kind of practical consideration would now be viable due to the method of printing from the bottom up.
The chemical and optical factors necessary to solidify the resin are still being researched;. it is premature to speculate on what exactly the resolution of the laser would have to be to work in an everyday space. But there is no denying that this new development is a big step forward for complex 3D printing. The technology has been spearheaded by the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, and they—in addition to MIT, UC Berkeley, and the University of Rochester—are still developing the technique, perhaps in an effort to find more a commercial application. Yet it seems all but guaranteed that there will be a market for 3D printers as we push the technology to meet our demand for efficiency and speed.