3D Printers

IBM files patent for hologram 3D printer

American multinational IT company International Business Machines Corp, better know as IBM, has filed a patent relating to “3D printing on the surface of an acoustic hologram.” First submitted in June 2017, the document has now been published online for public knowledge.

An incredibly ambitious invention, the IBM acoustic hologram 3D printer presents the potential to fabricate a hollow object in a single step – but is it really possible?

Hologram 3D printing 

The investigation of holograms for their 3D printing potential, though unusual, is not an entirely new idea. At the very least, papers exploring the potential of laser light holograms have been in circulation since the early 90s, including various works from a team at the Tokyo Institute of Technology. Most recently, Californian augmented reality specialist DAQRI also revealed efforts to develop such a system.

In a video clip posted by the company in 2017, a green laser hologram is shown 3D printing a paperclip from a dish filled with resin.

The main difference with IBM’s patent however, is that it explicitly relates to an acoustic hologram which would operate a little differently to one made with light.

3D printing with holograms by DAQRI
3D printing a paperclip with a laser light hologram. Image via DAQRI

An experiment with non-Newtonian fluids?

In IBM’s patent, the acoustic hologram, as with laser light, is generated by an array of neatly packed emitters. By controlling the focus and range of the soundwaves created by these emitters, IBM scientists hope to create a “palpable” sound that can be used to exert force upon and manipulate a material – think speaker + corn starch experiment for non-newtonian fluids.

As detailed in the patent’s abstract:  “The resulting hologram creates a tactile illusion of an object floating in space within a three-dimensional printing area,”

“When a 3D-printing medium is applied to the surface of the hologram, the medium solidifies on the hologram’s surface to generate a hollow shell in the shape of the object to be printed.”

At present however, it is unclear whether the inventors intend to make the solidification permanent, as in general 3D printing techniques, or not.

Figure 6A from US patent no. US20180361680A1 showing "an exemplary 3D printer, including sprayer nozzles, generating an acoustic hologram in accordance with embodiments of the present invention." Image via Google Patents/IBM
Figure 6A from US patent no. US20180361680A1 showing “an exemplary 3D printer, including sprayer nozzles, generating an acoustic hologram in accordance with embodiments of the present invention.” Image via Google Patents/IBM

Coming soon?

As it stands, the IBM acoustic hologram 3D printer holds much more promise as a temporary way of projecting a physical object into a room, for example, it could be used as a more-physical visualizer tool for CAD models. Either way, it has some experienced IBM staff behind it. Harish Bharti, Abhay K. Patra and Sarbajit K. Rakshit are listed as the method and system’s inventors. Rakshit and Patra are both Master Inventors at IBM, with a combined experience at the company of over 20 years. All co-inventors on the patent are also listed as IBM Architects.

While it may be unlikely that the holographic 3D printer will ever become a viable IBM product, the patent is certainly an interesting thought experiment for future high speed 3D printing technologies.

Figure 6B from US patent no. US20180361680A1. Shows the "printing a 3D object by spraying material onto the surface of an acoustic hologram." Image via Google Patents/IBM
Figure 6B from US patent no. US20180361680A1. Shows the “printing a 3D object by spraying material onto the surface of an acoustic hologram.” Image via Google Patents/IBM

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Featured image shows Figure 6B from US patent no. US20180361680A1. Shows the “printing a 3D object by spraying material onto the surface of an acoustic hologram.” Image via Google Patents/IBM

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