HARP in action as it vertically and continuously prints a large 3D object.
Research advances are changing the image of a once-niche technology.
A resin printer from Chad Mirkin’s lab at Northwestern University in Illinois can create structures as large as a person in hours (image sequence sped up). Credit: Northwestern University
As a metal platform rises from a vat of liquid resin, it pulls an intricate white shape from the liquid — like a waxy creature emerging from a lagoon. This machine is the world’s fastest resin-based 3D printer and it can create a plastic structure as large as a person in a few hours, says Chad Mirkin, a chemist at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. The machine, which Mirkin and his colleagues reported last October1, is one of a slew of research advances in 3D printing that are broadening the prospects of a technology once viewed as useful mainly for making small, low-quality prototype parts. Not only is 3D printing becoming faster and producing larger products, but scientists are coming up with innovative ways to print and are creating stronger materials, sometimes mixing multiple materials in the same product.