Disney is working on a 3D printer that creates objects almost instantaneously, if a recent patent filing by the company's research arm is anything to go by.
Spotted by 3D printing blog 3Ders, the patent in question refers to a device that projects a 3D image into a container filled with photosensitive resin and then directs light beams in order to harden the object in "minutes".
The filing says: "The apparatus includes a print chamber and a liquid print matrix such as a photo-curing resin positioned in the print chamber. The apparatus includes an optical assembly focusing light into the print chamber in the form of a real image whose light initiates a curing process for a volume of liquid print matrix to form the 3D object.
"In this first 3D printer design, the 3D printer acts as a high-speed 3D copying machine because it uses an optical assembly or a set of optics that relays a volumetric real image (versus a virtual image) of the existing or target 3D object into a vat holding a volume of photo-curing liquid or resin... [This] causes a portion of the liquid to be cured in a nearly instantaneous manner."
Less waste, less fuss
Traditionally, 3D-printed objects are drawn layer by layer in order to give them time to dry, which can take hours. However, Disney's patent would circumvent this issue by creating entire objects at once, which would then be rapidly-set and could therefore be lifted from their moulds almost immediately afterwards.
The filing explains: "Presently, 3D printing is extremely slow and time consuming. For example, it may take several hours to print a single 3D object that is only several inches in diameter and four to twelves inches tall. Hence, there remains a need for 3D printing methods that can generate a 3D object with increased speed while retaining or even improving on the quality of the 3D object."
Another benefit of the printing method proposed by Disney is that it does away with the need for support structures. In layer-by-layer methods, 3D printers need to build material beneath overhanging parts of a 3D model (think outstretched limbs and the like) in order to prop them up. Not only is this a waste of printing material but it also lengthens the production process as these structures need to be removed afterwards. In Disney's design, the object would be supported by the surrounding resin and wouldn't therefore require additional support.
"In several testing operations, a 3D printer using photo-curing liquids has been proven effective in generation 3D objects in several minutes or less," claims the filing.
Disney has filed a number of similar patents related to 3D printing technologies. The most obvious reason the company is so interested in the tech is that it would allow it to churn out merchandise quickly and cheaply. Alternatively, the company may be planning a similar move to Mattel by offering a way for kids to 3D print their own licensed figurines at home.
Another possibility - and we're being purely speculative here – is that Disney might be looking to create vending machine-like printing booths where you could get your own Disney figurines printed on the spot. Fanciful perhaps, but not entirely out of the realms of possibility.