Sometimes companies come up with a new angle on 3D printing. Now Uniz has literally developed a 90 degree angle on their new prototype.
Uniz is a well-funded 3D printer startup that devised a twist on the SLA process enabling extremely rapid 3D printing. Basically their “Slash” machines has an LCD screen directly illuminate liquid resin rather than using the projector approach that’s very common among resin-powered 3D printers. As we wrote last year, the company claimed they could print material at a rate “50x faster than the Form 2”.
Since then the company launched a very successful Kickstarter campaign that netted them USD$571,926 in 552 orders, more than sufficient to continue development of the machine. Since then it seems they’re now somewhere around 1,000 units on order.
When I dropped by their booth at CES I expected to see the Slash again, with some improvements. But I wasn’t expecting to see this very unusual prototype, shown to us by CEO Dr. Houmin Li.
The “zSLTV” is a much larger 3D printer that utilizes the same printing process as its sibling, the desktop Slash. As such, it will have the same characteristics including high resolution and rapid printing.
But if you look at the interior of this strange machine, you’ll see something quite different: it’s PRINTING SIDEWAYS!
In the image above, the dark area is the LCD screen that illuminates the resin. The print emerges from the right and is pulled to the left by the sideways Z-axis. Yes, this entire interior is the resin tank itself; all that you see here would be submerged in photopolymer resin.
After printing I presume you lift out the build plate with print attached and separate it for post-processing, which likely includes further UV curing.
The question is, why do this sideways? Dr. Li explained that large resin 3D prints can suffer from “material rupture” and his solution is to 3D print sideways where the object continually remains immersed in the liquid where, since it is the same material, has neutral buoyancy and gravitational stresses are minimized.
It’s a zero-Gee 3D printer!
Dr. Li explains that the price of the unit will probably be something in the USD$10,000 range and may be set for a summer 2017 release. If so, this would be one of the largest resin 3D printer options available - and certainly at that price range. There are other large SLA options available from companies like 3D Systems, but the price of those machines is vastly larger than a mere USD$10,000.
There’s something else: Dr. Li says that the machine design is expandable. The resin tank can be arbitrarily large, although the wide and height would surely be constrained by the size and resolution of the LCD screen used. On the other hand, how large can you get a 4K LCD screen these days? Hm.