NCKU Professors Develop Cutting-Edge Rapid Prototyping Device

A prototype of a cutting-edge "three-dimensional printer", a Rapid Prototyping (RP) device, has been successfully developed by the group led by the Distinguished Professor Sen-Yung Lee of the Department of Mechanical Engineering (ME) at the National Cheng Kung University (NCKU) under the funding from the Technology Development Program for Academia (TDPA). The TDPA was managed by the Ministry of Economic Affair (MOEA) with an aim to encourage universities to take part in the R&D in industrial technologies. This RP technique has also been transferred to a domestic company, MicroJet Ltd., the only domestic company possessing core technique in printer manufacturing. The annual revenue garnered from this technique is expected to reach 3 ~ 5 hundreds million NTD, approximately 10 ~ 16 millions USD, in 5 years.

The co-investigator of this project, Professor Wei-Hsiang Lai of Mechanical Engineering Department, stressed that the "three-dimensional printer", the first commercial RP machine developed domestically, has many commercial potentials, such as with high throughput, great precision and low cost. In addition, another merit of NCKU’s RP device is that all of its parts and assemblies are nowadays supplied and manufactured domestically, instead of import from other countries in the past.

Dr. Sen-Yung Lee, the Distinguished Professor of Mechanical Engineering Department and Director of the Mechanical Technology Research and Development Center, said that many core techniques were integrated to build this three-dimensional printer. These core techniques include nanoscale powder manufacturing technology, precision positioning and process control, powder compounding, bonding & coherence technique, improved ink injector and driving technique, and integrated system of three-dimensional inject printing.

Dr. Sen-Yung Lee indicated that this "three-dimensional inject printing" technology have very broad application in industries. Besides RP machine, the nanoscale powder manufacturing technology can also be applied into many industries, such as IC packaging, microelectronic manufacturing, chemical engineering and industries, biomedical and nanotechnology with total estimated annual revenue of hundred millions NTD, equivalent to about 3 hundred million USD. The technique of precision positioning is critical to precision machinery, such as measuring instruments, astronomical telescope, machine tools and medical instruments. In addition, powder compounding and bonding & coherence technique are useful to mechanical engineering, biomedicine and other related industries.

Professor Wei-Hsiang Lai, the co-investigator of this project, added that Rapid prototyping (RP) technology is one of the most prominent mechanical technology developed since the beginning of the 20th century. It integrates the precision machinery, computer technology and also chemical engineering and materials manufacturing. Furthermore, another characteristic of this RP technique lies on its high entering threshold to this industry.

Professor Lai illustrates the working mechanism of this RP technique. The RP techniques "prints out" the stereo object by assembling components stack by stack, layer by layer to the final stereo work. It integrated CAD and CAM systems, similar to computed tomography technique, to slice a 3D solid object to many 2D cross-sectional pictures. This RP device simply prints out these 2D tomographic pictures one by one, eventually to assemble the original 3D object. With this RP technique, no molding is required and the manufacturing cost related to molding is saved. Simply the computed tomographic techniques could replace the use of molding in manufacturing. Thus, this RP technique is sometimes referred as "3D moldless manufacturing technology", which is more desired in the initial stage of designing and manufacturing commercial products. At this stage, NCKU’s RP device has been advanced to produce colorful work, not only the black-and-white one, which will certainly lead to broader applications.

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