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Source: University of Canterbury

30 April 2020

High speed, accurate 3D printing is becoming a reality thanks to new technology being developed by a University of Canterbury (UC) mechanical engineer.

  • UC Mechanical Engineering Senior Lecturer Dr Yilei Zhang aims to have a working prototype of the new printer ready in about six months, and he already has sponsorship from Auckland-based technology incubator Astrolab.

High speed, accurate 3D printing is becoming a reality thanks to new technology being developed by a University of Canterbury (UC) mechanical engineer.

UC Mechanical Engineering Senior Lecturer Dr Yilei Zhang is working on a prototype of a 3D printer that uses hybrid laser beams to speed up production without reducing accuracy. Dr Zhang says, when it’s complete, the printer would be of huge benefit for engineering and biomedical products.

In light of the current Covid-19 crisis, the technology could be used to quickly print in-vitro organ models to study the virus’ effects, or to screen drugs that might potentially cure it, he says.

“We’ve developed a novel hybrid, high-speed 3D printer based on laser beam shaping technology, which allows us to print large, complex structures faster than traditional 3D printers. This technology has broad applications in high-speed 3D printing of engineering and biological products.

“In the biomedical field it could be used to make not only scaffolds for tissue engineering, but also in-vitro organs with cells embedded inside for implantation.”

The invention would allow for mass production of highly complex and accurate items, Dr Zhang says.

“3D printing is normally quite slow because it involves adding a thin layer of materials at each step, which enhances accuracy but reduces productivity. By using hybrid laser beams we can print fast without compromising on quality.”

Additive manufacturing – as 3D printing is also known – is one of the key future directions of manufacturing and is already widely used across the aerospace, food, agriculture and marine environment. The market is expected to grow about 14 per cent in value and reach US$23.3 billion in 2026.

Dr Zhang, who has been a Senior Lecturer at UC for just over a year, aims to have a working prototype of the new printer ready in about six months, and he already has sponsorship from Auckland-based technology incubator Astrolab.

His project is also a UC Innovation Jumpstart 2019 winner, which means he receives $20,000 to help with experimentation and development. 

MIL OSI