Xolo, a startup based in Berlin, has developed and presented a new system to xube that could be defined as the first commercially available volumetric 3D printer. But let’s not get carried away. While the system may possibly be reserved for purchase, it was actually designed as an experimental tool to test possible applications of a volumetric 3D printing approach that the researchers behind the company called “xolography” so that more people can understand the revolution of this new form of additive manufacturing and “see how it comes” as the company’s slogan is.
We didn’t see it coming. And I have to admit, our friends at Fabbaloo first understood this story after it was published in Nature. We’ve already covered volumetric 3D printing, but the technology remains marginal as it doesn’t have any commercially viable applications yet. However, we expect this approach to become much more relevant in the years to come.
In fact, the xube could grow into something similar to what Formlabs achieved with Form 1, Ultimaker, Makerbot and Prusa with their first 3D printers, CELLINK with the Inkredible Bioprinter or Sinterit with the first Lisa: Bring a technology with largely experimental – or limited to the highest levels of industrial manufacturing – for a wider audience of academic and commercial users.
The xolographic 3D printing process
The German researchers who developed and tested the xube system expect volumetric 3D printing to be the next step in sequential additive manufacturing methods. The xolography approach is a two-color technique in which photoswitchable photoinitiators are used to induce local polymerization within a limited volume of monomers when linearly excited by cutting light beams of different wavelengths. In other words, since volumetric 3D printing has to “hit” different parts of the liquid resin at different times in a 3D volume in order to create a 3D image at once (and not just a 2-layer over an over), The researchers regulate how deep light penetrates the resin by changing the wavelength.
A xolographic volumetric 3D print from Xolo’s Xube system.
The researchers from xolo and two German universities have demonstrated this concept with the xube volume printer, which is intended to generate three-dimensional objects with complex structural features as well as mechanical and optical functions. Compared to prior art volumetric printing methods, this technique has a resolution about ten times higher than calculated axial lithography without feedback optimization and a volume generation rate of four to five orders of magnitude higher than two-photon photopolymerization. The researchers expect this technology to convert the rapid volumetric production of objects on the nanoscopic to the macroscopic length scale.
Jordan Miller, assistant professor of bioengineering and co-founder of Volumetric, Inc., commented on the achievement on LinkedIn, provided some additional insights, and described it as “an extremely creative and innovative realization of two-tone 3D photopolymerization […] Your design is [such] that the blue sheet of light is scanned once through the volume (this is its z-axis), which sensitizes the reactant in a thin plane, but only hardens the changing red pattern (an XY image) that crosses there . Effectively, the projection changes and with it the hardened pattern in the room, although you only have to project one image at a time. On the name “Xolography” […] The authors state: “The crossing (X) rays of light create the entire (holos) object with this printing process, hence the term xolography.” I like this.”