How engineers could use soundwaves to 3D print components

How engineers could use soundwaves to 3D print components

Sound has the power to do amazing things. We already discussed how it can affect our comfort and well-being in a building. Depending on the angles of the structure and its materials, sound is either carried or suppressed, impacting our moods, mental health, and productivity

But how can sound be used in engineering? Legend has it that the engineering marvel of the Pyramids of Giza used sound to levitate stone. This is, of course, as unbelievable as it sounds. The theory has been debunked by the MSM, but experts still have vastly different opinions about how these vast structures were built. But speculation aside, sound does have incredible applications in engineering.

One such application is 3D printing. Right now, most 3D printing methods use photo or thermo-activated processes to manipulate polymers. However, novel technology is manipulating soundwaves to produce precision parts.

A remarkable new discovery 

3D printing is being used more and more in design and engineering. It’s a straightforward and cost-efficient way to produce certain components from plastic, ceramics, and even glass or metal. These components can be easily tweaked and changed in 3D-modelling software, which makes fine-tuning designs far quicker.

Now, new ways to produce 3D printed objects are continuing to enhance the process. In a recent paper published in the journal Nature Communications, researchers described how focused ultrasound waves can create complex geometrical forms. Basically, this is achieved by creating tiny bubbles that can be used as reactors to trigger chemical reactions that transform liquid resin into solids.

This is created by fluctuating pressure and temperature inside these tiny bubbles. The researchers used a polymer called polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS) and used a transducer to create an ultrasonic field. These waves pass through the material’s shell and solidify the liquid material and deposit it onto a surface. The transducer moves across a pre-programmed path to print the object pixel-by-pixel. This creates some of the most accurate 3D printed objects possible.

New possibilities in engineering

The researchers believe that this technology will benefit industries that require extremely specific or delicate parts and equipment. For example, aerospace engineering could benefit from this technology as the ultrasound waves can penetrate metal chassis. This could also allow maintenance crews to repair parts deep within an aircraft’s body that would otherwise be inaccessible to techniques reliant on photo or thermal reactions. 

The research team has proved that they can print with many other materials besides PDMS. According to the head researcher, they have also experimented with polymers and ceramics, and soon they’ll try polymer-metal composites. Eventually, they hope to be able to use ultrasound technology to print metal components.

Certainly, this technology has exciting implications for the wider engineering sector. In building services, it could help us repair and improve systems without invasive work. This could save a huge amount of time and money, and make systems more efficient. It’ll be interesting to see what happens when ultrasound 3D printing is rolled out to the wider market. 



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