© Provided by: PROTO THEMA S.A. The 3-D printers -in a while- will print everything and fast
The progress in three-dimensional printers is continuous and in a few years there will be almost nothing that can not be produced by such a device.
Two new innovations come to confirm this:
- In Europe, researchers at the University of Zurich presented a 3-D printer that works with live, not inanimate materials such as plastic or metal, using ink containing bacteria to produce complex, functional “living” materials.
- On the other side of the Atlantic, researchers at US MIT University have created a machine that has ten times the speed of 3D printing than anyone else in the market.
The Swiss printer, presented in “Science Advances” magazine, was created by researchers led by Professor Andre Stundard, Director of the Swiss Federal Institute for Technology Laboratory (ETI). “Ink” containing bacteria allows printing of microscopic biochemical “factories”, each with different features, depending on what kind of bacteria are used each time.
It is possible to use at the same time up to four different inks, containing different bacteria, respectively, so as to produce objects with a variety of features. Each ink is a mixture consisting of a biocompatible hydrogel (hyaluronic acid), sugar molecule chains, silica and bacteria. The ink has a toothpaste-like texture and is called “Flink” (Functional living ink), that is, “functional live ink” and can print any shape.
For the time being, it remains unclear how long the bacteria can live inside the printed objects, but the researchers assume they can do it for a long time, because they are oligarchic. They also stressed that the bacteria used are harmless and the living ink absolutely safe. Such bacterial inks may in the future find various medical, biotechnological and other practical applications, e.g. to create elastic skin grafts, to print sensors containing bacteria and thus to be able to detect toxins in water. They can also be used to develop bio-filters to clean up oil spills and other sources of pollution.
Two technical barriers to be overcome before are to increase the current slow printing rate and make bio-printing possible on a massive scale.
3-D turbo-printing: On average, a commercial 3-D printer prints objects at a rate of about 20 cubic centimeters an hour. These common printers take about an hour to produce a few Lego-type bricks.
The new American printer does not want more than ten minutes to do the same job thanks to its advanced print head. It has a built-in laser that heats and melts the material, allowing it to flow faster through the printer nozzles.
The researchers, led by associate professor Anastasios John Hart of the Department of Mechanical Engineering of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), who made the relevant publication in the “Additive Manufacturing” magazine, showed the abilities of the new printer by producing within five to ten minutes a spectacle frame, a tapered sprocket and a miniature copy of the MIT dome.
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