Researchers from the University of Sheffield in the UK say they are making a massive 3D printing machine that will be fast enough to compete with conventional methods.
MIT Technology Review reports that the machine, which uses a process known as high speed sintering (HSS), will cost about £1m to make. Expected to be completed by 2017, it has received funding from the British Government as well as the private sector.
Unlike commercial 3D printers that use lasers, HSS marks the shape of the part onto powdered plastic using heat-sensitive ink, which is then activated by an infra-red lamp to melt the powder layer by layer and so build up the 3D part.
The researchers, led by Professor of Mechanical Engineering Neil Hopkinson have been investigating the technique for over ten years. They have discovered they can control the density and strength of the final product by printing the ink at different shades of grey and that the best results are achieved by using less ink than is standard.
They claim that the new machine will be able to make millions of small complicated parts at a time economically. And on top of that they say it is around 100 times faster than laser sintering for certain kinds of parts and is cost competitive compared to injection moulding.
However, there are still some hurdles for HSS to overcome. For example, according to Phil Reeves the vice president of strategic consulting for 3D printer maker Stratasys, the types of materials that the process can use is currently limited compared to the materials that can be used in injection moulding.
Image and video: University of Sheffield