A 3D printer developed by University of Wisconsin chemists could offer a simpler solution for printing parts comprised of multiple materials.
Researchers sought to create a method for printing varying materials from a single reservoir, rather than the multiple pools currently required. Their approach, detailed in the journal Nature Communications, started with base chemicals and used different light wavelengths to dictate how they would be joined together to create and print different polymers.
Chemists directed two projectors toward a reservoir and built up a printed design using ultraviolet and visible light to control materials’ composition and properties. One printed part featured blocks of soft acrylate, made with visible light, between layers of rigid epoxide produced with UV light.
The system is still relatively limited — the simple chemicals in the reservoir needed to both coexist in a vat and cure in similar time frames — but scientists are excited for its potential to facilitate more complex 3D-printed parts for engineering and medical applications.
UW chemist A.J. Boydston likened the breakthrough to enabling a painter to use a full array of colors.
“This is a shift in how we think about 3D printing with multiple types of materials in one object,” Boydston said. “This is more of a bottom-up chemist’s approach, from molecules to networks.”