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Solid freeforming of 3D functional gradients
We can liken solid freeforming to printing in three dimensions rather than two and, pursuing the analogy, we can divide it into “monochrome” and “colour” printing. Colour printing in 3D means you could place any material at any point as well as depositing mixtures of materials of predetermined composition. This means we could build three dimensional functional gradients into an object and the computer file would not just control the external shape and form of the object but also the composition at every point. Direct ceramic inkjet printing already allows this. We have also found a method of dry powder deposition which can be used with selective laser sintering or similar solid freeforming processes that use coarser powders, such as metals. The dry powder dispensing system has similarities to an ancient artform of the Navajo Indians known as sand-painting. Acoustic waves generated from the design file are sent to a glass capillary hopper via a connecting rod from a transducer (using 100-300 Hz). This provides both on/off switching and flow rate control. High amplitude produces low flow rates. An explicit model with no disposable constants, explains the physical basis of flow rate control [Phil. Mag. 85 (2005) 1089-1109]. This process was exhibited at the Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition 2007
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