Rapid Liquid Printing can 3D print furniture in minutes

3D printing gives the designer a lot of freedom to create their own objects, but there are limitations to the process. Because everything has to be printed layer for layer, it takes a lot of time to produce even a small item. In addition, you cannot print in the air thanks to gravity and need to print support if you want to do that anyway, which generally leaves marks on the product. MIT’s Self-Assembly Lab collaborated with the furniture brand Steelcase and product designer Christophe Guberan to develop a new 3D printing method called Rapid Liquid Printing. Objects are printed in a gel-like substance instead of in the air, so that gravity has less effect on it.

Compared to conventional processes like injection moulding, casting and milling, 3D printing is slow. Though it is very suitable for small components, 3D printing is limited by scale and cannot produce large objects. In addition, the quality often leaves to be desired.

Rapid Liquid Printing, according to the researchers, addresses all these problems. The printer head is inserted into a gel, in which it is possible to draw in 3D without worrying about gravity. This results in faster printing possibilities, on a scale as big as the machine permits.

The liquid filament hardens by a chemical reaction when coming into contact with the gel, so there is no need for light or changes in temperature. The printed object can be lifted from the gel without additional curing. The printing method works with any industrial liquid material, such as rubber, foam, and plastic, and you can print with variable line thicknesses.

Rapid Liquid Printing is aptly named. The team says to have reproduced a structure that would have taken 50 hours using traditional 3D printing in only 10 minutes with the new method. The tabletop they designed took just 28 minutes to make.

The new method allows for customised products and furniture that can still be cost effectively be produced. The team is working to perfect the process.

Photos: Self-Assembly Lab