DALLAS -- Texas Instruments said this week it is adapting its HD digital light processor (DLP) chipset for rapid prototyping systems that can print 3-D objects.
By optimizing the DLP for UV light, the surface of a receding photo-activated polymer can be formed into 3-D objects for custom and one-off precision manufacturing. UV-optimized DLPs are also used for exposing photo-active resists in pc boards with a virtual mask, laser repairs and computer-to-plate printing.
"Engineers had been taking apart projectors to get at the DLP chips for years, but now we have several lines for different applications such as our UV models optimized for curing polymers," said Mariquita Gordon, a TI vice president. "Our latest UV optimized model will offer higher resolution—1920 by 1080 pixels--over our current XGA model with 1024 by 768 pixels."
The HD model, like its XGA predecessor, is optimized for UV light by tweaking the gas mixture inside the package, enabling the DLP to cure photo-active polymers without being damaged by the corrosive effects of the high-energy light source.
EnvisionTec Inc. (Ferndale, Mich.), 3D Systems Corp. (Rockville, S.C.) and others currently offer DLP-based 3-D printers for rapid prototyping, one-off- and personalized manufacturing. PC-board makers are also using UV-optimized DLPs for mask-free lithography, enabling them to quickly revise circuit board layouts.
The new HD models available later this year are being promoted as delivering better quality for rendering detailed structures at the surface of the photo-active polymer and doubling throughput for maskless pc-board makers.
I would have thought that there would be benefits to a higher resolution but lower speed DLP chip for these applications, whereas it sounds as if TI are just using the same chip that is designed for TV/Video rate projectors. Does a 3d printer need to change image at 50+ frames per second? Would it benefit from a higher resolution?
I love the idea of more precision in 3D printing, I wonder what the cost will be and when the hobbyist will be able to afford these systems, it could open up a whole new world for the basement tinkerer. I would love to be able to crank out a couple of plastic parts (even if it takes a few hours) at home; what a great improvement in options.
Like everything electronic, prices plummet for products that enter mass production. Right now most applications are professional, but within the decade I predict that home-versions of 3-D printers will become affordable.
I have not heard of any plans to make a lower speed DLP chip, and I'm not sure one would be that much cheaper. However, I know for a fact that TI will read your comment above, so thanks for at least putting the bug in their ear :)
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