Scientists turned a laser cutter into a cheap 3D printer

Scientists recently published some exciting results from their attempt to make a cheap 3D printer. They discovered a way to make a laser cutter build new objects, rather than cut existing ones.

Here at ShapeCUT, we’re always excited to hear about the latest developments in laser cutting technology, so we thought we’d share this news with you.

The science

A team of Rice University scientists wanted to see if they could create a 3D printer in a matter of days, with just $2,000 and a laser cutter at their disposal. And they succeeded. They modified the laser cutter, turning it into a selective laser sintering (SLS) printer and enabling it to print 3D objects from powder.

Most of the 3D printers consumers see on sale today work by squirting material out through needles, but this printer works more like a crème Brule torch. Powder is put on a surface and the laser focuses on it, just like it would if it were cutting. The laser’s heat then melts the powder and causes it to fuse together, rather than the laser cutting through the powder. Another layer of powder gets put down and the laser keeps going, making the desired item.

The implications

Similar printers sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars, so this printer offers significant cost savings. This means more people and businesses would be able to afford 3D printing technology and all the benefits it offers.

There are also many possibilities for its use within the medical sector. The printer uses nylon powder and polycaprolactone – the latter of which is biodegradable, so scientists are considering its use in implants. It could be used as a framework for mesenchymal stem cells, leading researchers to think it could be utilised in building scaffolding for cells that grow into a skeleton, in a cheap and highly effective way.

Laser cutting and more from the experts

With over 20 years of experience, you can trust the laser cutting team here at ShapeCUT to know what they’re doing. Whatever your shape and metal cutting needs, we can help. Contact us today to find out more.