New Liquid 3D Printing Method by MIT and Steelcase

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Scientists at the MIT Self-assembly Lab and Global Furniture Manufacturer Steelcase teamed up to develop a new and faster method of liquid 3D printing

RLP allows for different line thicknesses within a single extrusion.
Rapid Liquid Printing (RLP)  allows for different line thicknesses within a single extrusion.

Let’s face it once again. In a consumer goods industry, where quality of finish and time are  key factors, conventional 3D printing is still fairly a slow process. Among other reasons, this is because most 3D printers require a series of steps to cure, replenish and reposition themselves for each additive cycle; In addition, printing large objects can take you more than 50 hr. and results are usually rough to the touch.

As a consequence, 3D printing has struggled to take off in any meaningful way in the consumer goods industry.

With this in mind, MIT and Steelcase experts unveiled Rapid Liquid Printing (RLP) at Milano Design Week.

RLP is a speedy and scalable technique that might allows to make large-scale manufacturing of customized furniture a reality; In contrast to other 3D printing processes, it does not need of conventional support  material, layers or structures, which means every stage of production, from extrusion to curing, occurs during the printing process.

Rapid Liquid Printing mainly focuses on size, speed, and quality material.

MIT’s printer essentially injects material in continuous streams into a tub. It actually extrudes and mixes a two-part liquid polyurethane inside a vat of supporting gel; After ‘drawing’ the piece, you can simply remove it from the supporting goo and  wash it with plain water.

Rapid Liquid Printing works with rubber, foam, plastic, or any other industrial liquid material for that matter.

“As a designer, what’s most fascinating and unique about Rapid Liquid Printing is the line quality of the print. It’s soft, almost organic. It evokes images of brushstrokes or the branches of plants… The printing speed is very impressive. In the far future, large scale objects could be printed in minutes instead of days. Also, it’s not limited to typical 3D printing material making the technology very desirable from a design perspective.”

-Yuka Hiyoshi, turnstone senior industrial designer.

When it comes to speed, RLP can manufacture a solid object in a matter of minutes. The team already tested a structure that would have taken 50 hours using a traditional 3D printing process in just 10 minutes with rapid liquid printing.

The innovative method has been successfully tested for customizing office furniture.
The innovative method has been successfully tested for customizing office furniture.

Gravity is no longer an issue for Rapid Liquid Printing.

The structure just hardens in the gel, with no need for setting or curing with light or heat. Hence it gives the designer the possibility to draw in 3D without the limitations of gravity. The final result is sturdy pieces of awesome-looking designs created out of hard plastics or flexible rubbers.

However, the team is researching how to scale the technology, and how to apply it to materials like metal.

Watch Rapid Liquid Printing process video here:

I have found this process is so satisfying to watch for some reason. But that’s not the point.

Judging by the clip, the partnership focuses mainly on furniture design, specifically on customization, therefore one of their goals is to “enhance the working environment by redesigning everyday furniture”. About the process, Steelcase’s Rob Poel said:

“There is breakthrough innovation taking place, but it’s not done. The hope is that the future will see this experience grow as customers will be able to customize and personalize their furniture.”

For now, RLP is still a proof of concept; Other factors like costs and viability of the process need to be taken into account. Anyways, it would be awesome to see manufacturers 3D printing customized furniture on demand soon.

Source: designboom.

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  1. Paul says

    What is the material cost and post processing like?

    1. Diana Segura says

      Hello Paul!

      As it was mentioned above, Rapid Liquid Printing is a technique currently under development by The Masachussets Institute of Technology and Steelcase, meaning it’s not available to the public yet, so there’s no information about the price, but maybe in a near future.

  2. mperkins37 says

    Too Much Cool stuff Thanks

  3. mperkins37 says

    sure seems like it will produce smoother prints

  4. Romeo says

    Its quite that of the turn-out; making it something, I’d consider making for a few potential purposes if / when I get that of the printer to produce such a item!

  5. mperkins37 says

    the tech is going in all kinds of really pleasant directions

  6. mperkins37 says

    saw where they are using this for some of the medical stuff

  7. Adi Ndr says

    this will be very neat for making that 3d print on the save button 😉

  8. WirelessGuy says

    Until I see Benchy printed I Ain’t buying one. 🙂

  9. Karen Propes says

    Wow, what progress in the development of future designs, furniture, could also use as lamp covers and I also see how easy it would be to make furniture for dolls. Doll furniture has also skyrocketed in the price where this may also offer an alternative way of making a strong piece.

  10. Richard Bynum says

    It seems that this method should be the winner out of all other ways to 3D print! It seems so simple and almost too good to be true! But I’m sure there will be a drawback, like cost. I hope not though! we can all wish right?! haha… It was amazing that it printed a project in 10 minutes that a normal 3D printer took 50 hours to print! I hope that this comes to be the next big thing in 3D printing!

  11. Justin Flugum says

    I wonder how much the materials used in this cost. I bet it’s cost prohibitive at this point, but I would love to see it in the future.

  12. Tom Baxter says

    This opens up more possibilities when it comes to printing without supports, but how do the fine details look compared to FDM and SLA printing?

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