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USC Viterbi engineers develop faster additive manufacturing process with multiple base materials

USC Viterbi School of Engineering researchers have developed a faster 3-D printing process and are now using it to model and fabricate heterogeneous objects, which comprise multiple materials.

Although 3-D printing (additive manufacturing, AM) can provide faster, cheaper and more accurate manufacturing options, fabrication time and the complexity of multimaterial objects have been a longtime hurdle to its widespread use in the marketplace. With this newly developed printing process, USC Viterbi Professor Yong Chen and his team have shaved the fabrication time down to minutes.

Chen and USC Viterbi industrial and systems engineering doctoral candidate students Pu Huang and Dongping Deng presented their findings at the ASME 2013 International Mechanical Engineering Congress and Exposition in San Diego.

Digital material design and fabrication enables controlled material distributions of multiple base materials in a product component for significantly improved design performance. Such fabrication capability opens up exciting new options that were previously impossible.

—Yong Chen

Traditional modeling and prototyping approaches used to take days, but over the past several decades various AM processes have been developed to fabricate both homogeneous and heterogeneous objects more quickly. Currently, AM processes such as multijet modeling, which create a solid 3-D object from a digital model by laying down successive layers of material, can fabricate a complex object in a matter of hours.

Last year, Chen and another team of USC Viterbi researchers improved an AM-related process called mask-image-projection-based stereolithography (MIP-SL) to speed up the fabrication of homogeneous 3-D objects.

In the MIP-SL process, a 3-D digital model of an object is sliced by a set of horizontal planes, and each slice is converted into a two-dimensional mask image. The mask image is then projected onto a photo-curable liquid resin surface and light is projected onto the resin to cure it in the shape of the related layer.

The USC Viterbi team also developed a two-way movement design for bottom-up projection so the resin could be quickly spread into uniform thin layers. As a result, production time was cut from hours to a few minutes.

In its latest paper, the team successfully applies this more efficient process to the fabrication of heterogeneous objects that comprise different materials that cure at different rates. This new 3-D printing process will allow heterogeneous prototypes and objects such as dental and robotics models to be fabricated more cost- and time-efficiently than ever before.

In their future efforts, Chen and his team will investigate how to develop an automatic design approach for heterogeneous material distribution according to user-specified physical properties and how to improve the fabrication speed.

The study was partially supported by the National Science Foundation (grant numbers CMMI-1151191 and CMMI-0927397).


  • Yong Chen (2013) “Modeling and Fabrication of Heterogeneous Three-Dimensional Objects Based on Additive Manufacturing” (IMECE2013-65724 )


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