Australian startup puts the pressure on 3D printing

Australian startup Hardcotton has announced the launch of a new 3D printer which uses what it claims is a "world first" pressure system to control resin levels during printing.

In what it describes as a "world first", Australian startup Hardcotton announced today the launch of a new 3D printer that uses a pressure system to control resin levels when an object is being built.

According to Hardcotton, the inclusion of the pressure control system allows the 3D printer, dubbed Elemental, to bypass mechanical interaction when controlling the level of resin needed for printing an object.

By utilising pressure controls in Elemental's custom designed vat during the printing process, Elemental's laser system can cure a layer of resin accurately, quickly, and quietly, according to Hardcotton.

The pressure control system allows the flow of material from a control chamber within the vat into the build chamber, increasing the level of the resin. The laser system then cures the next layer of resin to further create the object. The process is repeated until the object is produced.

The vat's control chambers act as reservoirs for material to flow from or flow to depending on what is needed during the print process.

By controlling the pressure in the control chambers, Elemental can raise or lower the resin level precisely and without the need for mechanical interaction with either the build area or the resin.

According to Hardcotton, the system allows Elemental to work with a broader range of production materials — typically photosensitive polymer resin — than other stereolithography (SLA) printers in the marketplace.

"Utilising pressure control, Hardcotton has developed a 3D printer that employs SLA technology but creates the 3D print without the use of a mechanical platform," said Hardcotton co-founder and CEO, Scott Pobihun.

"This is a massive step forward for 3D printing. Because there are very few complex parts to be assembled in Elemental, we see this architecture as being the basis for the mass manufacture of 3D printers very soon."

Hardcotton plans to launch Elemental through Kickstarter later this year, and intends to offer the printer to Kickstarter backers for less than AU$1,000 per unit.

While desktop 3D printers such as Hardcotton's Elemental have been gaining popularity in Australia and other markets around the world, most of them remain limited in terms of the materials they can work with.

However, a few local industrial manufacturers have used large-scale 3D printing technology to great effect in mass commercial production.

In 2012, Australian aerospace contractor, Ferra Engineering, entered a AU$200 million contract agreement with US aircraft giant, Lockheed Martin, to make two-metre-long titanium parts for the F-35 joint strike fighter using additive 3D printing technology.

Meanwhile, in 2013, the European Space Agency entered into a partnership with a consortium of organisations to work on 3D printing technology to build a lunar habitat using lunar soil as the base construction material.