According to a January 18 press release, a team of engineers at the University of Bristol has developed a new type of 3-D printing that could lead to the creation of a new generation of fiber-reinforced composites. In the team’s study, they explain that in their new method, ultrasonic waves are used to position millions of tiny reinforcing fibers as part of the 3-D printing process.  The fibers are formed into a “microscopic reinforcement framework” that gives the material strength. This newly-created structure is then set in place with a laser beam, which cures the epoxy resin and then prints the object.

“We have demonstrated that our ultrasonic system can be added cheaply to an off-the-shelf 3-D printer, which then turns it into a composite printer,” said Tom Llewellyn-Jones, a University of Bristol Ph.D. student in advanced composites.

The researchers believe that their new method will expand the range of things that can be 3-D printed at home while simultaneously lowering 3-D printing costs. Bruce Drinkwater, a professor of ultrasonics at the University of Bristol’s Department of Mechanical Engineering, says the new method gives manufacturers the ability to produce printed parts with tailored material properties without compromising the quality of printing.

“Our work has shown the first example of 3-D printing with real-time control over the distribution of an internal microstructure and it demonstrates the potential to produce rapid prototypes with complex microstructural arrangements,” said Drinkwater.

The press release explains the orientation of the fibers can be controlled by switching the ultrasonic standing wave pattern during printing.  During testing, researchers achieved a print speed of 20mm/second, which they say is close to regular additive layer techniques.

For more information, you can read the full paper, 3D printed components with ultrasonically arranged microscale structure or check out the video below: