In a profound first for additive manufacturing, researchers at the Universities of Sheffield and Loughborough have created the FACTUM printer which incorporates a new 3D printing technique capable of making finger-sized parts in less than one second.
The researchers, who belong to the University of Sheffield spin-out FaraPack Polymers, are studying advanced polymer sintering at high speeds with laser sintering for low-volume applications and high-speed sintering (HSS) for low and high volumes.
The Sheffield team is working alongside industry partners and with Loughborough University to exploit this manufacturing process with the aim to deliver a validated supply chain and a range of example products that show the time-saving, part properties and cost benefits of choosing this technique for high-volume orders.
The FACTUM machine (which derives its name from the Latin ‘to make’) sinters its powder material through the use of a heat lamp, rather than a laser. Once its plastic powder has been laid down, the lamp passes over the material, sintering it with minimal damage and producing a higher quality product.
In addition to its higher quality end products, FACTUM engineers say the new printing method gives the system a wider range of material options than traditional laser sintering machines.
Beyond its origin as an academic project, FACTUM has picked up some big name support from the likes of industrial giants Unilever and BAE Systems. For Unilever’s part, the company is investing in HSS technology as a way to manufacture new packaging designs that can’t be produced by traditional injection molding.
On the other hand, BAE sees the new AM technique as a way to produce better “low-volume, high-added value products.” The aerospace giant also believes the technology gives engineers greater design freedom, which could lead to products with better performance.
With major investments from two large corporations in hand, HSS looks to be a promising development for additive manufacturing. “The fact that it has attracted the interest of the likes of Unilever and BAE Systems underscores this potential,” said David Chapman of Xaar, a supplier of piezoelectric industrial inkjet printheads. “FACTUM could radically change the way we think about manufacturing, introducing new designs and business models that we cannot even imagine today.”
Image courtesy of Xaar PLC.