3D printing is cool and all, but it is not without its limitations. I mean, plastic can’t do everything. Surely, you can’t print turbine parts out of plastic, right? It is going to melt in a snap. So, 3D printing is pretty much relegated to prototyping or less critical stuff like toys and stuff. However, that is set to change with HRL Laboratories’ latest development. The researchers over at HRL Labs have achieved a breakthrough in 3D printing of ceramic, a material which engineer Zak Eckel at HRL Labs described as “notoriously difficult to process,” that results in a product that embodies all the qualities of ceramic, including high heat resistant and anti-corrosion properties.
While some have tried their hands in printing ceramic, HRL Labs’ method stands out as one that’s virtually flawless. Instead of having ceramic particles hanging in glue-like binding resin that will be subsequently removed through high heat and therefore enabling the fusing of the particles to create one single piece of ceramic, HRL Labs created resin that contains molecules required to form ceramic. Using a $3,000 printer, HRL Labs’ researchers prints 100 micron thick layers of this plastic-like material where UV light is used to etch the layers of resin that turns molecular clumps (call monomers) into long plastic-like chains, called polymers.
After the desired part has been printed, it is transferred to a kiln to be heated to remove unnecessary chemical groups originally present in the resin and leaving behind only the strong ceramic framework. The result is a fully dense ceramic material that has 10x higher strength over similar material and totally capable of withstanding ultra high heat in excess of 1,700 degrees Celsius. So, in time to come, you can imagine a Ghost reboot would probably involved the character ‘hugging’ Molly Jensen from behind, but instead of a potter’s wheel, they’d be in front of a ceramic 3D printer. Ok, we way off here, but we just can’t help it. I am sure you folks can understand, right?