Behold the world's smallest 3D printer. About the size of a milk carton and weighing only 3.3 lbs, this breakthrough brings us that much closer to a reality of DIY 3D printing production. A multi-disciplinary team of chemical researchers and mechanical engineers at the Vienna University of Technology collaborated on the prototype.
High-tech 3D printers have been making headlines lately for their many potential applications: from bionic bones to widgets, the possibilities are virtually limitless. But until now, the technology that powers these super printers has been well out of reach of the consumer market. However the Vienna University team assembled its device for only 1,200 Euros (about US $1,700), and anticipates the price (and size) will drop as they perfect construction.
The printer relies on "additive manufacturing technology," and here are the basics behind how it works: a small tub of synthetic resin acts as the printer's "paper." The special thing about this paper, though, is that it hardens where illuminated. As the printer processes plans for the object it's producing, intense LED beams (only a twentieth of a millimeter thick) shine into the bath, which then solidifies, layer-upon-layer, until the object is complete. As a properly German-sounding member of the Vienna research team, Klaus Stadlmann describes, "this way, we can even produce complicated geometrical objects with an intricate inner structure, which could never be made using casting techniques."
The group continues to experiment with a variety of materials and techniques, but like its LED light the future of this technology is bright and clear – a printer in every pocket, and a tailor-made toy for every toddler.