A Slovenian inventor has been granted a national patent for a new technology that uses magnetic levitation to position powder materials in a volumetric printing space. The patent application which describes the potentially disruptive technology was also recently published by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO).
Volumetric printing, still recognized as a type of additive manufacturing, is unlike other AM technologies in that it does use use a layer-by-layer construction method. Rather, the process, also known as holographic or tomographic printing, builds parts or objects in all three dimensions at once.
3dpbm founder Davide Sher recently took an in depth look at volumetric printing and its potential impacts on the AM industry. Interestingly, one of the challenges with the technology that he highlights, adapting it for powder bed fusion, is somewhat addressed in the technology proposed by inventor Nataša Mušević.
In the technology described in Mušević’s patent, magnetic levitation is used to position powder materials in a volumetric printing space. Melting is then performed by numerous electron beams which enables the “spatial melting of powder materials.” This capability could allow for the production of whole objects at once.
The technology could offer an exciting new avenue for metal AM, potentially even ushering in a new era for the technology and especially metal AM. The ability to manufacture a part using the sequential fabrication of its volumetric parts, rather than the common layer-by-layer technique, could result in drastically faster production times.
The innovative volumetric technology is one of the first of its kind in that it addresses the volumetric printing of metal powders. Presently, most other volumetric printing processes being developed center on biomaterials (such as CELLINK’s Holograph-X system) and polymer resins (such as the technology developed by LLNL).
Notably, the patent also describes a way to overcome the challenges of printing negative space and overhang angles: a type of inside out printing. By manufacturing an object from the inside out, increasingly complex structures could be realized without the need for support materials—resulting in less material usage and reduced post-production.
Zavod Park, a creative technologies group based in Ljubljana that published the news of the patent, says the volumetric process could even have applications in printing in space. “The proposed solution could also bring promising benefits to 3D printing in space, as magnetic levitation of powder materials would be highly efficient for use in zero gravity,” it writes.
Ultimately, the metal volumetric technology proposed in Mušević’s patent could—if brought through to commercialization—radically impact the speed and capacity of industrial AM, laying the groundwork for a new generation of AM technologies. The full WIPO patent application can be found here.