A Research Proposal…


DISCLAIMER: This was just my initial proposal for my graduation research proposal for next semester. After receiving some feedback, I will need to make changes to it.

Through the exploration of fabrication in the collaboration project with my fellow peers, I have learned about and experienced different methods of digital fabrication and its use to create rapid prototypes. Digital fabrication mainly falls within two different categories that define the process used to create models:

- Additive fabrication process; which involves producing and layering material to create the model. 3D printing usually comes to mind with this process.

- Subtractive fabrication process which is when material is cut and milled away to create a model. CNC milling/cutting and laser cutting are what come time mind with this process.

Both of these fabrication processes have their pros and cons when it comes to producing a final product and depending on what is required for the model (such as material, form being produced, use of the model etc.), some machinery will obviously fit the task better than the others. All of these different methods of rapid prototyping through digital fabrication processes require several different pieces of machinery which obviously can be a setback in terms of resources. That’s where I would like to base my research off, is there a way to make a change in the rapid prototyping process of digital fabrication by minimising the amount of machinery required to make a model. There are a few examples that already exist that answer this question i.e. Modular machines such as the Zund cutting system which is a modular CNC machine with interchangeable modules to allow cutting of different materials and for CNC milling. Another example would be the several products on the market that offer both 3D printing and laser etching within the one machine such as a new product called the Snapmaker, which is a modular machine able to 3d print, laser engrave and CNC carve. All of these solutions basically offer a brand new product which basically adds a new function to a machine. Often these new products costs thousands of dollars each which is obviously an investment only some have the ability to make. My research path will be looking into achieving added functionality to machines that are already within our grasp. Really simply put:

Can a laser cutter 3D print?

This statement may sound absurd but there is a chance it can happen which I would like to explore. Through research of 3D printing, there are different methods of this additive manufacturing process. The more common method, Fused Deposition Modelling (FDM), works using extrusion and layering of heated plastic filament which I have grown accustomed to and is the simplest and cheapest method being utilised by many even within their own homes. A different method of 3D printing is through Selective Laser Powder Remelting (SLPR). A method that is not as common as the one mentioned previously, the way in which this method produces a model is through the use of a laser beam which is pointed over a bed of powdered material such as metal or polymer which then remelts the powder to combine and create the desired form. Another method of 3D printing which I would like to further investigate with is the method of Stereolithography (SLA). This method uses light from a projector (Digital Light Processing (DLP)) to project a profile onto a resin tank/vat which cures the resin in that particular profile. These profiles are layered onto each other to final create the 3D form.

My investigations will be looking into how a laser cutter can be involved with the two later 3D printing methods, since both of those use a laser/light to either heat or cure the material to be printed. I will be setting up experiments that will try to achieve some form of additive outcome with the use of the subtractive fabrication tool, a laser cutter. I will be trying if it is possible to achieve the 3D printing method of SLPR with the use of a laser cutter. This can be tested by setting up a rastering pattern for the laser cutter to fill in a profile. Just from early research, an extremely high powered laser is required to do this job which could mean that the tests may not conclude according to what I hope the final outcome would be, which is a powdered material that would be successfully bonded to create a solid object. Another investigation that I would like to conduct would be the use of UV resins within the laser cutter. Similar to the setup mentioned earlier, the laser cutter will be setup with a rastering pattern as well. A few challenges that I can foresee with trying to achieve the SLA printing is being able to get the laser cutter to cure the resin. This method of 3D printing takes time, as it takes around 7–10 seconds to cure a layer of resin to create the form. Another issue that could arise from curing of the resin is the type of light produced by the laser cutter. UV resins have a particular wavelength range for it to cure, this range being 385–405nm. This means that the laser cutter’s wavelength output needs to be checked and the strength will definitely need to be adjusted in order for this to work. 
 Of course, with these experiments with using a high powered laser comes with some safety precautions. With the first investigation, the type of material that’s being bonded together will have to be safe for the laser to use, MSDS will have to be inspected and the risk of fires happening will need to be prevented. I also had the concern of fires starting with UV resin but from asking people with experience, I’ve been told that resin shouldn’t have any flammability concerns.

To sum up all of the points I have mentioned, I’m looking to conduct an investigation on laser cutters. I want to see if it is possible to use that particular tool, and “hack” it to perform tasks that are almost completely opposite to the nature of the machine by augmenting the laser cutter and making it into a 3D printer. If this investigation concludes with positive results, it can be the start to a development of the potential tasks that a laser cutter can perform and could potentially unify the rapid prototyping process into one simple machine. This could potentially lead to a saving in resources which would definitely be beneficial for everyone.


· Gebhardt, Andreas. (2003). Rapid Prototyping. Hanser Publishers. Online version available at: http://app.knovel.com/hotlink/toc/id:kpRP000001/rapid-prototyping/rapid-prototyping

· Lipson, Hod, and Melba Kurman. Fabricated: The new world of 3D printing. John Wiley & Sons, 2013.

· Dudek, P. (2013). FDM 3D Printing Technology in Manufacturing Composite Elements. Archives of Metallurgy and Materials, 58(4), pp. 1415–1418. Retrieved 1 May. 2017, from doi:10.2478/amm-2013–0186

· Gilpin, L. (2014). 3D printing: 10 factors still holding it back. TechRepublic. http://www.techrepublic.com/article/3d-printing-10-factors-still-holding-it-back/, accessed 29–04–17

· Garage Science. (2016). How a Resin DLP/SLA 3DPrinter Works. Youtube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hQ21gbeYFYQ, accessed 29–04–17

· Sculpteo (2017). SLM (selective Laser Melting): 3D Printing Metal. Sculpteocom. https://www.sculpteo.com/en/glossary/selective-laser-melting-definition/, accessed 29–04–17

· Snapmaker (2017). Snapmaker: The All-Metal 3D Printer. Kickstarter. https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/snapmaker/snapmaker-the-all-metal-3d-printer, accessed 30–04–17

Talk w/ Ben about my proposal


What's the point?

hacking stuff for fun is good

hacking stuff to be cheaper is entertaining

SLA disco laser

how can you do it cheaply?

maybe set a budget constraint

fix a real problem in 3d printing