3D printing, Additive Manufacturing, Manufacturing News

The first chip-based 3D printer has been demonstrated by researchers

MIT and University of Texas researchers have developed what they say is the first chip-based 3D printer, a major step towards a portable, palm-sized 3D printing device.

Smaller than a coin, the device could enable a user to rapidly create customized, low-cost objects on the go, said MIT in a news release.

The Robert J. Shillman career development professor in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS), and a member of the Research Laboratory of Electronics, senior author Jelena Notaros, said the system completely rethinks what a 3D printer is.

“It is no longer a big box sitting on a bench in a lab creating objects, but something that is handheld and portable. It is exciting to think about the new applications that could come out of this and how the field of 3D printing could change,” said Notaros

Their proof-of-concept device features a single, millimeter-scale photonic chip that projects reconfigurable light beams into a resin well, solidifying it upon light exposure.

The prototype chip operates without moving parts, using an array of tiny optical antennas to direct the light beam.

This beam is projected into a liquid resin formulated to cure quickly when exposed to the specific wavelength of visible light.

The interdisciplinary research team demonstrated a chip that can steer light beams to 3D print arbitrary two-dimensional patterns, including the letters M-I-T. Shapes can be fully formed in a matter of seconds.

MIT envision a system where a photonic chip sits at the bottom of a well of resin and emits a 3D hologram of visible light, rapidly curing an entire object in a single step.

This type of portable 3D printer could have many applications, such as allowing engineers to make rapid prototypes at a job site.

The paper’s co-authors include lead author and EECS graduate student Sabrina Corsetti; Milica Notaros, PhD ’23; EECS graduate student Tal Sneh; recent University of Texas at Austin graduate Alex Safford; and Zak Page, an assistant professor in UT Austin’s Department of Chemical Engineering.

Building off this prototype, they want to move toward developing a chip that emits a hologram of visible light in a resin well to enable volumetric 3D printing in one step.

This work was funded, in part, by the U.S. National Science Foundation, the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the Robert A. Welch Foundation, the MIT Rolf G. Locher Endowed Fellowship, and the MIT Frederick and Barbara Cronin Fellowship.

The findings of this research were published in Nature Light Science and Applications.

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