Three-dimensional printing is without a doubt one of the greatest growth industries of the 21st century. And yet, surprisingly enough, there are those who seem to think that there is room for improvement when it comes to current concepts and designs. Two such individuals are Petr Novikov and Saša Jokic, a group of architecture students who recently began interning at the Joris Laarman Lab in Amsterdam. While there, they came up with a revolutionary method for 3D printing that reboots the concept!
It’s called Mataerial, a new and patented process where polymers are squeezed from a nozzle similar to how bakers squeeze icing from a tube to frost a cake, except there’s a robot involved. Ultimately, their concept was based on the fact that all conventional printing works with layers, which they considered grossly inefficient. Not only do such methods require the presence of a support structure, they also take additional time, materials, and increase the risk of damage if the object is removed from its support structure.
The material that comes out of the nozzle is still kind of viscous–It’s not a liquid already but its not a solid material, so what we wanted to do is make it solid the same exact moment it comes out of the nozzle. And that’s the hardest part. Because if it solidifies before it comes out of the nozzle, then its going to make a clog… but if it solidifies after it leaves the nozzle, than its going to be weak and fall down.
The key was to find two liquid polymers that, when mixed, quickly harden, which allows for mid-air solidification. They’re calling the resulting method “Anti-Gravity Object Modeling,” since the material’s just-in-time solidification eschews the need for any sort of support structure. The new method is exciting for a number of reasons. The first is scale, in that this method could be adapted for manufacturing large and well as small scale objects easily.
Depending on the size of nozzle used, the technology could be used to print materials and objects that are on the scale of millimeters (like components for consumer electronics), 3D models (the kinds that are printed by standard professional printers), or larger objects such as furniture or even parts used in large-scale architectural construction. Basically, anything from the tiniest object to the largest structure could be created by robots equipped with specialized nozzles and Mataerial printers.
But perhaps most exciting is the possibility that this new method would be able to print objects in low or even zero gravity. Given NASA’s recent interest in building a Moon base using 3D printing, such a process could come in mighty useful. Already, the technology known as “sintering” has been considered for the purposes of building a Lunar settlement, but given its “anti-gravity” application, the Mataerial process just might have a shot at winning some lucrative contracts.
In fact, Navikov indicates that they considered the possibility and put it to the test. As he indicated: “We did an investigation and we are pretty sure that this could be used as 3-D printer in zero gravity.” Did you get that NASA? Anyway to make this technology work with regolith? Regardless, it sure could be useful here on planet Earth!