Xolo, a startup based in Berlin, Germany, has developed and presented xube a new system that could be defined as the first commercially available volumetric 3D printer. Let’s not, however, get carried away. While it may be available to reserve for purchase, the system has actually been developed as an experimental tool to test possible applications of a volumetric 3D printing approach that the researchers behind the company have named “xolography”, so that more people can understand the revolution of this new form of additive manufacturing and “see it coming”, as the company tagline goes.
We did not see it coming. And I have to admit that our friends at Fabbaloo got to this story first, after it was published in Nature. We’ve covered volumetric 3D printing before, however, the technology remains marginal as it has no commercially viable applications yet. However, we do 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 the Form 1, Ultimaker, Makerbot and Prusa did with their first 3D printers, CELLINK did with the Inkredible bioprinter, or Sinterit did with the first Lisa: bring a technology that is largely experimental—or limited to the highest levels of industrial manufacturing—to a broader public of academic and commercial adopters.
The German researchers who developed and are conducting tests on the xube system expect that volumetric 3D printing is the next step onward from sequential additive manufacturing methods. The xolography approach is a dual-color technique that uses photoswitchable photoinitiators to induce local polymerization inside a confined monomer volume, upon linear excitation, by intersecting light beams of different wavelengths. In other words, because volumetric 3D printing needs to “hit” different parts of the liquid resin at different times, in a 3D volume, to recreate a 3D image at once (and not just a 2 layer over an over), the researchers regulate how deep light penetrates into the resin by changing the wavelength.
The researchers from xolo and two German universities demonstrated this concept with the xube volumetric printer, which has been designed to generate three-dimensional objects with complex structural features as well as mechanical and optical functions. Compared to state-of-the-art volumetric printing methods, this technique has a resolution about ten times higher than computed axial lithography without feedback optimization, and a volume generation rate four to five orders of magnitude higher than two-photon photopolymerization. The researchers expect this technology to transform rapid volumetric production for objects at the nanoscopic to macroscopic length scales.
Jordan Miller, Assistant Professor of Bioengineering, and Co-Founder at Volumetric, Inc., commented on LinkedIn the achievement, providing some additional insights and describing it as “an extremely creative and innovative realization of dual-color 3D photopolymerization […] Their design is [such] that the blue light sheet is once scanned through the volume (this is their z-axis), sensitizing the reactant in a thin plane, but only curing the changing red pattern (an XY image) that crosses there. Effectively the projection and thus the cured pattern changes in space even though you only have to project a single image at a time. On the name coining “Xolography” […] the authors state ‘The crossing (X) light beams generate the entire (holos) object using this printing process, hence the term xolography.’ I like it.”