This story, which passed under most radars last year, could have some very important implications in dramatically broadening access to advanced DLP 3D printing technology to small business owners, hobbyists and consumers. Texas Instruments, the original inventors of digital light projection technology, introduced the new, TI DLP Pico chipsets to fit into smaller applications so that engineers can develop small, high-quality 3D printers that are more accessible and affordable.
TI DLP technology utilizes high-power full-layer exposure for 3D printing, resulting in reduced printing times and high fabrication accuracy. TI DLP technology uses an array of millions of individually controlled microscopic mirrors, called a digital micromirror device (DMD), which are leveraged in 3D printers to project a pattern onto the resin, allowing an entire layer to be printed all at once.
One challenge has been the high cost, which has confined high-quality 3D printers to large-scale manufacturing settings and kept them out of the workshops. But new TI DLP Pico chipsets – which are smaller than earlier versions – are poised to make high-quality 3D printers small enough to fit on the desk at home or at work and, as a result, can be available for less than US$500. That’s less than half the price of DLP 3D printers previously. Anycubic in Shenzhen, China, is one of the first companies to leverage this new technology and develop affordable 3D printers, the new Photon Ultra, using the TI DLP Pico chipset.
Before they were used to project patterns into photosensitive resin, DMDs were first used to project digital images on movie screens with DLP Cinema chips. The technology made its debut in 1999, to project George Lucas’ “Star Wars I: The Phantom Menace” onto a movie screen.
Today, DLP technology from Texas Instrument has evolved and has been designed into hundreds of consumer electronics, display products, automotive lighting and advanced light control applications. Applications range from high-resolution automotive headlights and head-up displays to 3D machine vision, augmented reality glasses and high-quality 3D printing.
“In the same way that high-end cinema technology has been scaled down to handheld projectors, we can take the same DLP technology used in industrial 3D printing and put it into a smaller space,” said Trevor Dowd, a product marketing engineer at Texas Instruments. “That means a 3D printer can fit on your desktop and still give high performance, fast print speed and good reliability.”
Texas Instrument Technology first used to display the climactic lightsaber battle of The Phantom Menace in movie theaters and now being used to 3D print engagement rings and repair priceless wood carvings demonstrates how technology and its uses can evolve over time to open up new innovations and markets.
“We’re seeing exciting developments in the world of 3D printing and throughout the pandemic, there have been people filling a gap in the market by quickly printing face shields and ventilator components,” Trevor said. “As more people gain access to these printers, they’re coming up with new uses for them every day.”
The DMD chip, introduced by TI in 1987, once revolutionized the way movies were distributed and projected; later it changed projection technology, and today, it’s helping drive down the cost of 3D printing to make it more accessible to more people. As each generation of innovation builds upon the last to make technology smaller, more efficient, more reliable and more affordable, new markets open and it becomes possible for semiconductors to go into electronics everywhere.