3D printing of a microscopic race car. Image credit: TU Vienna

Watch This 3D Printer Make a Microscopic Car

Article written: 13 Mar , 2012
Updated: 23 Dec , 2015
by

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3D printers let you manufacture any 3-dimensional object out of plastic. You just download the design, fire up the old 3D printer, fill the hopper with plastic, and it’ll slowly print out the object. It sounds cool, and hackers are having a great time playing around with them, but it still doesn’t compare to the scale, quality and cost of traditional manufacturing. It’s still a toy for hackers… right?

As you know, technology has a way of creeping up and then dramatically changing everything. And once you watch this mind-bending video of an ultra-high-resolution 3D printer creating a tiny race car, I think you’ll agree with me that 3D printing technology is improving in leaps and bounds.

Researchers at the Vienna University of Technology recently demonstrated a new kind of 3D printer that can create objects orders of magnitude faster than previous devices, at much finer scales; just a few hundred nanometers wide.

Check out this amazing video of the new 3D printer technology quickly creating a microscopic model of a race car.

Their printer uses a liquid resin which is hardened at exactly the right spots by a focused laser beam (rule 1, everything cool is done with lasers). The lasers can be redirected by mirrors and can harden a line of this liquid resin just a few hundred nanometers wide, giving it a very high resolution.

But it’s also fast. In the past, 3D printers were clocked at millimetres per second. Well, this TU Vienna printer can harden a 5-meter line of resin in 1 second.

There were two discoveries that pushed this advance forward:

  • They improved the control mechanism of the mirrors so they’re in continuous motion, accelerating and decelerating at the precise times to get the high resolution printing.
  • They used photoactive molecules to harden the resin. When the laser light hits the resin, it induces a chain reaction that turns it from a liquid to a solid; only at the point of highest intensity.

What would you use a 3D printer like this for? If it’s this fast and accurate, the mind boggles with the possiblities. The researchers proposed medical applications, like building scaffolding for living cells to attach, allowing you to grow organs in the lab. But the imagination really breaks down trying to imagine the implications for this kind of technology.

Okay, now I want one.

Original source: TU Vienna, with a nod to SpaceRef.


17 Responses

  1. Scott Ludtke says

    Hey Fraser:

    I actually have a client who does the 3D CADD design and printing just as the video depicts. However, he is capable of printing objects in color, and up to 12″ x 18″ in size.
    The first time that I saw the capability of this technology I was mind boggled.

  2. While very cool, I fail to see the connection to “Space and astronomy news”… If they had made a spaceship instead of a race car I might have!

  3. sardean says

    Interesting that they achived such a result when the artical mentions that the laser hardens a line “a few hundred meters wide”

  4. NT Stargazer says

    Tea ..Earl Grey, Hot 🙂

  5. atomicusmagnus says

    You wouldn’t download a car….

  6. SJStar says

    Sorry you missed it. It is a Formula 1 car…

  7. Brandon Flakes FromHell Willia says

    an endless supply of GIJoe figurines

  8. Patches says

    “The lasers can be redirected by mirrors and can harden a line of this liquid resin just a few hundred meters wide, giving it a very high resolution.”

    A few hundred METERS? Is this a typo?

  9. Martin Lewicki says

    Well, how about “printing out” components for your astronomy projects. Like custom brackets for your camera-scope combo. Lost that eyepiece screw, clip, thingo in the long grass. Print a replica! Or what about printing out custom project lenses with clear resin fill…the applications are enticing….. Any one with other ideas?

  10. Slugsie says

    Well, that’s the resolution problem solved for 3D printers. Now we just need to get the size and cost down of this thing, and then I can print everything I need.

Comments are closed.