UC Berkeley’s “Replicator” has disruptive potential

Researchers and engineers at UC Berkeley have developed a new type of 3D printer which uses light to transform liquid resin into 3D objects.

By printing from the center outward, UC Berkeley’s printer can create objects that conventional 3D printers struggle with.

Starting with a cylindrical container of liquid resin mixed with a photoinitiator, the printer shines light through as the cylinder rotates. It’s effectively a 3D image, not too different from a standard video projector.

You can see it in action here.

The specially formulated resin reacts with the light to become a solid. It’s very futuristic and you can see why they’ve dubbed it “The Replicator”, a nod to Star Trek.

This has the potential to be pretty disruptive. A conventional 3D printer starts at the base and builds up layers of resin, plastic or metal. It’s slow work, and a ground-up method makes certain shapes difficult or even impossible to create.

Screwdrivers and More

One particularly useful utility: you can take existing objects and build additional structures around them. For example, they added a handle to a metal shaft to create this screwdriver.

Photo: UC Berkeley

Interestingly, UC Berkeley created their prototype using relatively simple, commercially available components.

“Basically, you’ve got an off-the-shelf video projector, which I literally brought in from home, and then you plug it into a laptop and use it to project a series of computed images, while a motor turns a cylinder that has a 3D printing resin in it.”

Hayden Taylor, Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering, UC Berkeley

It’s obviously not that simple. The team reverse engineered technologies like computer tomography (CT scans.) This process requires precise calculations to get the light intensity just right.

The tech has serious upside. In addition to a wider variety of shapes and high speed printing potential, the team discovered they could recycle almost all unused resin.

Also, there’s more potential to print flexible objects, something which standard 3D printers struggle with.

UC Berkeley’s examples aren’t super detailed; there’s clearly some refinement needed to improve resolution. That’s understandable; at this stage, the Replicator is more about proof of concept than commercial viability.

When perfected, this could be a godsend to anyone who relies on rapid prototyping.

You can check out UC Berkeley’s scientific paper here.