There has been a marketing trend in the 3D printing industry for many years that before each major premiere of a new solution, we read in the announcements how much it will be “revolutionary”, “groundbreaking” and “unrivaled”, and at the end it is obligatory – “that it will determine new directions of development of the 3D printing market for the coming years ”. Then it usually turns out that the new 3D printer has a 10-15 cm larger working area in one of the axes, or “it is even faster and more precise”, or that instead of two print heads it has three or four. When we received e-mails from BCN3D for several weeks with announcements that the Spanish company had created a “new 3D printing technology”, my expectations were not too high … But you know what? However, they created! And it looks really intriguing!
During today’s conference broadcast on the company’s YouTube channel, BCN3D presented a completely new technological solution in the field of 3D printing from light-curing resins, which has a real chance to lead to a significant reshuffle on this market. However, cooling down the emotions – two quick, slightly disappointing information: at the moment the company will only use the new method in the form of a 3D printing service for selected customers, and the technology itself is patented, i.e. until the company commercializes it itself in the form of ready-made 3D printers, no one else won’t have a chance to use it.
The new technology is VLM – Viscous Lithography Manufacturing. It uses high-viscosity photopolymer resins (hence the name), which are selectively cured with UV light. This in itself is quite an innovation, because the resins used by BCN3D in this process are characterized by a much higher density than other techniques of curing the resins with UV light. As a result, they are to have increased physico-chemical properties that are unavailable to them, such as e.g. three times higher impact resistance and two times higher tear strength.
However, what significantly distinguishes VLM from the popular stereolithography (SLA – curing with a laser beam) or UV LCD (curing with the light emitted by the LCD screen) is a completely revolutionized way of building parts. In typical resin desktop printers, the light source is located at the bottom of the device, and a container with the resin is placed above it. A work table is immersed in the container, to which the 3D model being built is adhered. Here it is the opposite and completely different …
There are two resin tanks on the sides of the machine (two different resins can be used!). On their edges there are rolls with foil wound on (the so-called film). The foil is covered with a layer of resin and rewound to the very center of the working chamber. The working table runs over it from the bottom up to the height of the first layer, and the LCD screen installed at the top illuminates the resin by photopolymerizing it. The table is lowered to tear the printed layer away from the film, this is rewound back into the container, the excess resin is collected, and another layer of resin is applied to the cleaned film. The process repeats layer-by-layer. It looks like:
Two containers with resin make it possible to either use two materials (e.g. building and support resin, with different chemical properties, which would allow it to be rinsed out, as in the PolyJet method), or to pour the same into both and speed up the 3D printing process (when one a fragment of the film is cleaned of residual resin and covered with a new one, the second fragment is already in the working chamber and undergoes the process of photopolymerization).
The 3D printing process is supposedly very fast and, according to the BCN3D declaration, it can compete with the American Carbon in this respect.
The French concern Arkema is responsible for the production of resins, with which BCN3D once signed a close cooperation agreement. This guarantees, on the one hand, the high quality of the base materials and the path to the further development of the range of available consumables. During the video presentation, Arkema representative announced that future resins will include fiber fillers and reinforcements to achieve a wide range of mechanical properties, including even higher strength and impact resistance.
The first beta users of VLM technology were companies from the automotive industry: Saint Gobain – a manufacturer of auto glass and Prodrive – a world-famous company dealing in motor sports and advanced technologies. At the same time, the technology will be available for use in the VLM technology adaptation program developed by BCN3D. It is aimed at companies of all sizes, and potential customers can test the VLM technology at the BCN3D Application Center, where they can have the parts 3D printed.
Finally, about what is most important, i.e. the 3D printer itself. Well, its not here yet …It probably exists, but not in such a form that you can see it even in photos. So far, only visuals and animations showing the 3D printing process are available, as well as reassuring BCN3D and its technology partners that it all really works. There is nothing else to do but take your word for it and remind yourself that, in fact, during the premiere of the super-fast 3D printing from Carbon, also no one showed the finished 3D printer, only the 3D printing process itself.
And when that happens, BCN3D machines using VLM technology are expected to cost less than € 50,000.