3D Printing Finds Its Mark

Like many technologies 3D Printing has taken its time to find its true vocation where the gains in digital processing are discovered by both leaders and followers. Often, new technologies need time to be matched with other skills and processes in order to be fully efficient. The advances in software, 3D scanners and 3D printers and light sensitive resins has now certainly reached this point.

Awesome Apps Ltd is a European Distributor for the new MoonRay series of DLP printers that are revolutionising the worlds of dental production, investment casting applications and rapid prototyping, among others.

A lot of our work is actually adapting and explaining where 3D printing fits within the modern workflows and while the health sector has experimented with 3D printing; it is less clear and how to use it in everyday processes. The dental sector is now starting to use the tools on a daily basis but the needs of implants and tools is yet to be fully addressed.

The MoonRay 3D printer works using the newest technology with an led based light source of defined wavelength. It uses an array of microscopic and individually controlled mirrors to project an ultra violet light onto very thin slivers of a UV resin held in a shallow tray. The layer is cured and begins to solidify before the light is re-focussed on the next layer and cured in the same way. The layers can be as little as 20 microns in height or about a quarter of the width of a human hair.

The detail produced is more than enough for many applications and there are three differing resolution versions to match the applications. The technology prints particularly accurate models that are dimensionally consistent across the entire build platform and items are not distorted by where they lie on the platform. Driven by easy to use software for the Mac or Windows platforms, the user can position, scale, rotate and duplicate the model at the click of a button. The software runs on a perfectly normal PC or laptop and requires no specialist training to operate. For parts requiring supports during the process the software automatically generates these, such that they are both easy to remove and useful in ensuring a correct solidification process. The system is commanded by the software via an Ethernet or wireless link and is free to perform other tasks during the actual printing.

This type of 3D printing technology has the net advantage that its is faster than the earlier laser driven (SLA) printers and can produce multiple parts in the time that the laser generation printers take to produce just one and is much less fussy in its handling and life span requirements.

Within the health sector 3D printers have been used largely to demonstrate how they work and nearly all using a technology that is related to fusing an already solid material. These printers have the benefit of relatively low costs but suffer in terms of speed and precision

Resins available for model making or rapid prototyping not only include the full range of normal plastic type materials in a full range of colours but also bio compatible resins that are certified and come from a range of suppliers. These resins match exactly the wavelengths cured by the MoonRAY and are suited to a range of applications from ear implants to dental crowns and bridges to podiatry. There are variable material strength properties as well as flexible resins allowing movement.

Prototypes are not just confined to engineering. For example, the speed requirements of producing new medical devices and one off solutions to urgent problems can be tested and honed within hospital, clinic, design or support premises. With very tight deadlines to adhere to and restrictions on the number of times something can be tried the medical sector is often beyond normal engineering methods. The 3D printing speed of the design to make process or the scan to make process makes many of the medical applications feasible.

Many government sector entities have rightly prioritised the digital connection between departments, populations and suppliers but there are areas where greater digital communication can be further enhanced by more tactile productions. Pictures and presentations are all good for getting the points across but to really get the feel of a new process or new device an in-house 3D model not only provides a realistic rendition of the idea but also details with room for improvement or modification. While such investments were initially restricted to outside of the office environment and often costed as major capital spend items, todays 3D printers cost less than a communications server or a web site update.

What seems like a technology leap that is difficult to integrate and even more difficult to relay to administrators students and colleagues can often become straightforward when demonstrated in the form of a realistic model. The rapid turnaround of ideas into concrete examples is the essence of 3D printing and applicable to many more enterprises than are currently in use.

The MoonRay 3D printer offers a compact, speedy, professional and elegant solution backed by the software and thirty year, technology expertise of Awesome Apps Ltd.