To provide alternatives to conventional methods of manufacturing, Photocentric is developing 3D printers that operate using patented technology to create a 3D object from a 2D image on a screen. Using the light emitted from an LCD screen that was originally intended for use in a smartphone, tablet or TV to harden a photopolymer made to react in light. The company is a pioneer in using LCD screens for 3D printing. Now it is focusing on creating an array of different LCD 3D printers and partnering with 16 universities to enhance research in different fields that are benefiting from 3D printing technology. Based in Peterborough, UK, the 3D printer and resin manufacturer has just launched the first model of their next generation large format LCD printers, the Liquid Crystal (LC) Magna. At 510 mm x 280 mm x 350 mm, Magna will be the largest build volume LCD screen-based printer currently available on the market.
The “disruptive industry-changing machine,” as Sales Director of Photocentric, Sally Tipping, refers to it, “sets new standards making it best in class in almost every respect.” According to Photocentric, LCD screen-based 3D printers have been the fastest growing area in 3D resin printing, and the company holds patents in visible light curing technologies, building on their vision of enabling bespoke mass manufacturing.
One of the most popular applications for 3D printing is in digital dentistry, and the firm hopes that Liquid Crystal Magna will be used in the mass production of dental models. Dental technicians need a high volume of patient-specific models, and now Photocentric claims that they can print 46 flat dental arches in just over 1 hour, which cost less than £1.60 per arch when used with Photocentric’s in-house dental model resin. And in under five hours, they can vertically print up to 80 arches. In the last few years, 3D printing has gained traction in the dental market, both in labs and multiple high volume applications, expected to reach 5 billion dollars by 2023.
According to the company, when the printer was conceived, it was intended to be used to enable prototyping such as electronic components, power tools, automotive parts, or sports equipment. The company claims that it can deliver consistent accuracy across a massive build plate with 100% of models’ tolerance at less than 100 µm and an average accuracy of within 50 µm. The LC Magna can be used for batch producing small parts such as 3D printer components, orthodontic aligners, or detailed game figurines, or for scaling up to larger prototype parts such as an automotive part or bike stand.
Photocentric commercialized the first 3D printer based on an LCD screen in 2016. That year they won the Queen’s Award for Innovation and in 2018 the Queen’s Award for International Trade. It’s hard to believe that the company began with a main focus on making simple and cheap business stamps in 2002. Which they still market and they are now the largest clear stamp manufacturer outside of China. Since then, the company has evolved into manufacturing 3D printers using LCD screens, patented photopolymer packs for making stamps, and a range of photopolymer resins compatible with any printer operating from 355 mm to 460 mm.
The use of LCD screens from smartphones, tablets, and large format TV screens is at the core of Photocentric’s 3D printers. The retail price of the LC is 10,995 pounds, which includes the printer, two kilograms of Daylight Black Hard resin, another two kilograms of Daylight Dental Model White resin, and a perpetual license for Photocentric Studio Software for two computers. With a global distribution network in over 50 countries and with industry demands heavily increasing, Photocentric is trying to get their product in as many markets as possible, including America and many European countries. Their global chain of distributors is making their way into major cities and towns where jewelry designers, inventors, engineers, and dental technicians are looking to turn their design concepts into tangible prototypes or end-use functional parts.
The patented peel release mechanism in the LC Magna ensures low force. The printer comes with a 7” screen for user control and has a 23.8” 4K Ultra HD screen, which has been matched with a custom-built backlight, that lets the printer expose 100-micron layers in 8 seconds – 10 times faster than its predecessor, the Liquid Crystal Pro.
Towards the end of 2019, Photocentric plans to release other LCD printers and resins. Their photopolymer resin, which is manufactured in the UK by an in-house team of chemists, will soon be followed by new resins for large component investment casting, a high-temperature resin for direct printing molds (over 300°C) and a tough formulation for impact resistance. Just last year, they partnered with BASF 3D Printing Solutions to create the photopolymers and printers necessary to enable the custom mass manufacture of parts. This cooperation offers solutions to industries that enable processes to be made using additive manufacturing to replace traditional tooling methods and creating flexibility in geometry and custom design. BASF provides functional resins that are needed for specific industrial uses and Photocentric manufactures the printers.[Images: Photocentric]
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