Thursday, 30 August 2012

Mammoth Stereolithography

Those on the inside of the 3D Printing revolution will know all about stereolithography, also known as optical fabrication. It is one of the oldest, and most surprising, of the various 3D printing techniques. Invented by Charles Hull, the original patent describes how a concentrated beam of ultraviolet light can be focused onto the surface of a vat filled with liquidphotopolymer. The light beam draws the object onto the surface of the liquid layer by layer, and using polymerization to create a solid object which emerges, magically, out of a liquid vat. It is quite magical to watch (see below).

Today the technology is available from 3D Systems. The technology has been scaled up and available from Materialize, a process they call Mammoth SL. Materialise is well-known in the automotive industry for its extensive knowledge in the production of large prototypes. How large? How about parts 2 meters in length?

Recently, this technology has been used to print virtually an entire car. Wired has reported that a Belgian team of engineers has produced the first (mostly) 3D-printed automobile, the Areion, for the Formula Student Challenge.  The team turned to 3D printing, specifically mammoth stereolithography and were able to print out parts up to 2,100 x 680 x 800mm in size, the entire car body, including the shark skin-inspired coarse-textured nose, the aerodynamics of which reduce drag and increase thrust. The CAD design, which included several innovations in aerodynamics, including texture and air channels, were printed, not assembled, in one pass.

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