ster•e•o•li•thog•ra•phy

7 Mar

If you are an engineer, you likely know what stereolithography (SLA), rapid prototyping and 3D printing are. If you are a recently graduated psychology major working in the PR department, chances are you do not.

A few days ago, I saw a part sitting on the desk of Alpha Engineering Director and Resident Genius (RG) Stew, and it caught my eye. Plastic rapid prototypes of parts are often created before making the real deal out of steel. Like a printer, SLA works layer by layer, but instead of using ink, it’s done using liquid UV-curable photopolymer, which is basically liquid plastic. Using a computer program you give the machine a blueprint (the “math data” in Stew speak) of what to make. A laser plots the dimensions layer by layer, heating up the plastic (aka curing the photopolymer) and creating a solid version of the 3D form designed in the computer.

Interestingly, on a side note, there is a whole community of DIY-ers who make 3D printers at home. These self-proclaimed makers are creating everything from door knobs to baby shoes. Currently this involves a little more know-how than Microsoft Word, but in theory someday, anyone may be able to print physical objects from their own computer. It seems like the stuff of the Jetsons, in the future you may be downloading everyday items, like dishes or even washing machine parts, the way you download iTunes. Need a toaster? There’s an app for that.

 

 

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