3D Printers

Cubicure introduces Hot Lithography process for performance plastics

Cubicure is a vat polymerization 3D printer developer, founded as a spinout company from TU Wien, the technical university of Vienna. To encourage the adoption of more lithography-based 3D printing technologies in industry, the founders of Cubicure developed a proprietary process that broadens the range of materials available to the vat polymerization process.

Working with viscous resins, Cubicure’s Hot Lithography process makes high definition plastic objects that exceed the properties of many common light-reactive materials.

Curing challenges

One of the reasons industry has been slow to adopt lithography based 3D printing processes is due to, according to Cubicure, “the poor material properties of the available photopolymers.”

As the company site goes on to explain, “Due to their molecule structure and high crosslinking density, [currently available photopolymers] are brittle and lose their stiffness at elevated temperatures.”

Cubicure’s solution is to 3D print using highly viscous resins, which requires a Hot Lithography process.

The Hot Lithography process enabled 3D printing of resins with the highest viscosity. Photo via Cubicure
The Hot Lithography process enabled 3D printing of resins with the highest viscosity. Photo via Cubicure

Hot Lithography

A patented process, Cubicure’s Hot Lithography consists of a heating and coating mechanism, operating at temperatures up to 120°C.

In order to print viscous material, temperatures must be controlled with precision, disallowing any heat spikes, unintended polymerization or material degradation.

The hot, liquid material is hardened by exposure to a high precision laser-scanner-system, available in light wave lengths ranging between 375 nm (UV) and 405 nm (visible blue).

The resulting products excel in impact strength, toughness and heat deflection compared to those produce in common “cold” lithography processes.

“Our technology offers great benefits for many applications,” explains Dr. Markus Pfaffinger, head of Business Development at Cubicure.

“We see great opportunities in automotive, aerospace, electrical and electronics, but also in engineering, precision engineering and the entire supply industry.”

A fine mesh 3D printing using Hot Lithography. Photo via Cubicure
A fine mesh 3D printing using Hot Lithography. Photo via Cubicure

The Caligma 200

Cubicure’s Hot Lithography technology is implemented in Cubicure’s Caligma 200 system.

The Caligma 200 has a build volume of 200 mm x 100 mm x 300 mm (L x W x H) enabling “economic production of small and medium batch sizes of polymer parts and composites.”

The beam diameter at focus is tuneable, producing layer heights between 10 and 100µm.

The 3D printer is due to be showcased at Hannover Messe, 23 – 27 April 2018.

The Caligma 200 system. Photo via Cubicure
The Caligma 200 system. Photo via Cubicure

Industrial opportunities 

In other 3D printing related projects at TU Wien, researchers have succeeded in achieving pencil-point precision of a multiphoton lithography process. Aliasghar Ajami’s team at the university is also working to identify initiator molecules in photopolymers to produce finer lithography-based 3D printing processes.

For Cubicure, the next step is to introduce this technology to more high value industries, such as automotive, aerospace and healthcare. Dr. Robert Gmeiner, CEO of the company comments, “3D printing already plays a key role in the production of prototypes or utility models,”

“But even for all industrial products that are produced in small quantities or have to be tailored to the individual needs of the individual customer – such as components in the medical sector – the high-quality 3D printing offers great opportunities.”

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Featured image shows products in the Hot Lithography process. Photo via Cubicure