This isn’t the first time 3D printing has been used to create a model in miniature, the ability to scale items down either from CAD files or by 3D scanning an item and then reproducing them is one of the main benefits of 3D printing and is often used in rapid prototyping services to test scale models. This has even been done before for race cars with the Renault Formula One team having worked with 3D Systems to make highly accurate scale models for use in their wind tunnel: producing far better results and far quicker results than the rapid prototyping services techniques they used before.
What the Vienna University of Technology though have done is to take miniaturization to another level. The work they carried out may itself have little use but it shows what can be achieved.
The reason a model Formula One style car was used was because these are among the most complex machines in the world made with fantastic precision to produce shapes developed using windtunnels and CFD, Computational fluid dynamics: highly complex computer programs that predict the flow of air over surfaces.
The model that the Vienna University of technology team created though will have no use as a rapid prototyping services model for an F1 team though as it is around the size of a grain of sand, but when magnified created with incredible accuracy.
The model car was made, as with other 3D printing techniques used for rapid prototyping services, by building up the printout 1 thin layer at a time, this isn’t the clever bit though as this was already possible, what is important is the speed that they can now produce items with this level of microscopic detail at.
The uses for this are many but most obviously uses in the field of healthcare; replacement parts that can be microscopic but still highly detailed are essential but the speed means larger parts including replacement joints can now be made with a level of detail never before possible but in a practical amount of time: hours or minutes instead of days and weeks. Though some applications for 3D printers developed primarily for rapid prototyping services in healthcare have been found they have been limited; one major use for this new technology will be creating frameworks for new organic material in the body to grow on: this could help with rebuilding tissue almost anywhere in the body and the level of accuracy will mean that the growth can be controlled very precisely and imperfections avoided.
The difference in speed is in fact around a thousand fold, the process using incredibly accurate lasers and a series of mirrors now prints at 5 meters per second, before speeds were a similar number of millimeters per second. Even compared to 3D printers used for rapid prototyping services where accuracy is unimportant the speed is comparable, especially if the technique was used to complete the top layer on a standard item.
It was on the car model that the Viennese team broke a new world record, it took only around 4 minutes to produce but other models produced by the team include the St Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna and Tower Bridge in London, both engineering triumphs created by what is surely a engineering triumph itself that has bought together both mechanics and chemistry. The resin used comes out as a liquid and is then hardened by the lasers: for this the consistency of the resin and its photosensitivity must both be perfect.