Rapid Liquid Printing: The Next Big Thing?

Compared to 3D printing’s “10 minutes for a small project,” that’s basically warp speed

For a while, 3D printing looked like it was going to be the next big thing for manufacturing companies. After all, it was being used to 3D print homes, prosthetic limbs for pets, and even tabletop game miniatures.

But for all its promise, 3D printing has yet to revolutionise the manufacturing world — at least, not to the extent that we thought it would. Why is that?

It turns out that traditional 3D printing has some serious shortcomings. According to Autodesk CEO Jeff Kowalski, “there was a gap between the expectation (re: hype) and reality of 3D printing.”  Complications like gravity, issues with the standard plastics, slow speeds, and lack of meaningful scalability hurt traditional 3D printing’s chances.

Despite the shortcomings, it was obvious to many people that 3D Printing had tremendous potential.

Enter rapid liquid printing (RLP). In late 2017, Steelcase and the Self Assembly Lab at MIT unveiled a new kind of 3D printing. Using vats of self-healing materials, RLP created a line of trendy, futuristic furnishings.

  1. But wait, you’re probably thinking. If RLP is just a kind of 3D printing, what’s the big deal?
    1. We’re glad you asked.

Rapid liquid printing offers several huge advantages over 3D printing.

RLP > 3D Printing

  1. It’s fast. Steelcase, partnered with MIT, showcased speeds as fast as 4 minutes for printing small, intricate designs. They also demonstrated a larger-scale project that took under half an hour. Compared to 3D printing’s “10 minutes for a small project,” that’s basically warp speed.
  2. It subverts gravity. One of 3D printing’s biggest issues dealt with gravity, which posed its own restrictions on what could and couldn’t be printed. Rapid liquid printing neatly sidesteps this problem by forming the product deep in self-healing vats of gel. That allows for almost-weightless construction, meaning that designs can be much more complex and ornate.
  3. It uses better materials. This is huge. Unlike 3D printing, which primarily relies on plastic, rapid liquid printing can create objects made out of any industrial liquid metal, including plastic, rubber, and foam. Thus, the end products can be much sturdier than traditional 3D printed ones.
  4. It’s scalable. Rapid liquid printing comes with potential scalability built in — surmounting one of the 3D printing’s biggest challenges.

The takeaway? Though rapid liquid printing has only recently debuted, it’s already showing a tonne of promise.

Don’t Forget Injection Moulding…

So, will rapid liquid printing replace injection moulding? Don’t worry yet — the industry standard isn’t going anywhere.

Since injection moulding has been the industry standard for years, there’s plenty of factories using it. And injection moulding has had many years to prove its versatility and lasting power.

Compare that to rapid liquid printing which, while promising, was unveiled in late 2017. As of now, RLP currently has injection moulding beat with lower tooling costs and an almost-zero lead time. If it takes off, it will render the “moulding” part of injection moulding obsolete, as custom products can be designed and executed with RLP in minutes.

Only time will tell if rapid liquid printing can unseat injection moulding as industry king… or if it will fail to live up to the hype.

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