Simultaneous with the release of a revealing research paper on Xolography, xolo has released details on their first volumetric 3D printer.
To date, 3D printing has used the layer-by-layer principle in almost all 3D printing processes. This is the case for SLS, SLA, FFF and other processes. But it’s not what’s used in volumetric 3D printing.
Volumetric 3D Printing
Volumetric 3D printing is an entirely new concept in which the entire print is produced almost simultaneously. Instead of building the object layer-by-layer, light projections (each an image) are repeatedly applied to a spinning vat of transparent resin. It’s a process similar to computed axial lithography, but it operates in reverse. Instead of obtaining interior scans from different angles and reconstructing a 3D model, here a 3D model is decomposed into images from different angles that are projected into the resin. Due to sufficient energy striking specific voxels via the light patterns, a 3D object can be completely built.
The advantage to volumetric 3D printing is speed. Instead of building voxel-by-voxel, or even layer-by-layer, the 3D printer builds the object using all layers at once, so to speak.
Xolo is one of the very few companies working on the development of volumetric 3D printers, along with researchers at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and UC Berkeley and it seems they could be the most advanced. Their process, called “xolography”, is a specific method of achieving volumetric 3D printing. While my description above may have seemed simple, volumetric 3D printing is incredibly complex, due to the complications of optics, chemistry and temperatures. All of these must be in perfect balance for the projections to properly solidify the resin.
Xolography seems to have solved those issues, at least according to the xolography research paper released on Nature recently.
xube Volumetric 3D Printer
I thought that was all there was to the release of the Nature paper, but it seems there is a lot more to report. Xolo has also released what is very likely the first purchasable volumetric 3D printer, the xube. I can’t tell you how to pronounce it, but I can tell you a little about it.
The device is not intended for commercial use, but is to be used by researchers and academia. This type of launch has previously been done by other 3D print startups, most notably Aurora Labs. It’s a way to perfect the as-yet unknown issues in the machine and process. That’s perfectly understandable as xolography is so new, so different, that it deserves special attention by folks who can understand what’s happening in the xolography process.
The xube is, as you might expect, a small device. Its build volume is “only” 50 x 70 x 90 mm, about the size of typical resin 3D printers used for jewelry applications, and certainly not yet appropriate for additive manufacturing. The machine’s dimensions are only 50 x 50 x 50 cm, easy to fit anywhere. xube includes dual 405nm lasers and UHD DLP for projection of each image, and has an optical resolution of 0.03mm on the X-Y axes, and 0.05mm on the Z axis.
But there’s one specification that stands out from all others. Print speed.
The xube has a “typical print time” of TWENTY SECONDS to FIVE MINUTES.
Wut? They weren’t kidding when they said xolography is much faster than traditional 3D printing processes. For printing an object 90mm tall, a typical LCD resin 3D printer would take 90 minutes or longer.
Ninety minutes is a lot longer than five minutes.
I suspect the 20 second quotation refers to small prints within the build volume.
Let’s think about this for a moment. How long is 20 seconds, exactly? It could be longer than it takes to walk back to your desk after you hit “Print” on the machine.
That’s how fast it is.
At this time you can reserve a xube, but not yet purchase one. It seems xolo’s images of the xube are only renderings, so you can tell they are still early in the development process., but the signs are looking good.
At this stage, the xube is only for research purposes. Xolo will learn a great deal about how their process is actually used, and what kind of application it might best be used for. With this knowledge they will certainly design future versions of xolography 3D printers, perhaps leading to the first ability to perform volumetric additive manufacturing.
That’s a term we haven’t heard before, but “volumetric additive manufacturing” could indeed become a frequently used description of future forms of xolography. This printing method could enable additive manufacturing to become more feasible in commercial environments, and perhaps open up many new applications.