Expert Interview: Exploring Photocentric’s Daylight Polymer Printing Technology with Managing Director Paul Holt
06 August 2019
Photocentric is a UK-based manufacturer of 3D printers and materials. The company, founded in 2002, is known for its unique and innovative approach to 3D printing, which it calls Daylight Polymer Printing.
In contrast to similar resin-based technologies like Stereolithography (SLA) or Digital Light Processing (DLP), Photocentric’s Daylight Polymer Printing technology does not use a UV laser or projector to produce 3D-printed parts.
Instead, its technology uses light from LCD screens to create 3D-printed parts by curing liquid photopolymer resin layer by layer. These Daylight resins, also manufactured by Photocentric, solidify when exposed to light from its printers’ LCD screens.
Notably, Photocentric’s 3D printers use LCD screens from mobiles, televisions and tablets, making them more affordable than SLA/DLP technologies, but offering the same quality.
To learn more about Photocentric’s unique technology and examples of it in use, we speak with Paul Holt, Photocentric’s Managing Director.
Could you tell me about Photocentric and your mission as a company?
Photocentric was originally founded to manufacture a patented package of photopolymers. Since then, our company has grown to enter a variety of markets, and we apply our photopolymer innovations to a diverse range of industries — including 3D printing.
Innovating photopolymer technology lies at the very core of our business. In 2005, we invented the concept of using LCD screens for 3D printing. In 2014, we developed our first LCD prototype. We’ve just released our seventh LCD printer, with plans for more in the pipeline.
The users of our technology include jewellery designers looking to speed up production or make unique geometrical pieces with 3D printing, dental technicians who need a high-capacity, accurate printer for patient-specific models and manufacturers, engineers and inventors who want to turn their design concepts into tangible prototypes or end-use functional parts.
Ultimately, our mission is to change global manufacturing – not just 3D printing. We’re doing this by making 3D printing affordable, large-scale and functional, and by enabling custom mass manufacture globally.
How does your Daylight Polymer Printing technology work, and what sets it apart from other resin-based machines available on the market?
Daylight Polymer Printing uses our in-house formulated Daylight liquid photopolymer resin. The resin is cured layer by layer when exposed to our high-resolution, LCD screen-based 3D printers.
A part is created once every layer of resin has been hardened by the light emitted from the LCD screen.
One of the key differentiators of our technology is the quality of our machines. Every stage of our products goes through a thorough quality control procedure to ensure that our customers get the best experience and product available.
Furthermore, our approach is designed to reduce the cost of 3D printing and enable the wider application of the technology. Everyday screens, like phone or TV screens, have become the core of our 3D printers. These LCD screens are reliable and low-cost digital imaging devices.
That, coupled with our photopolymer resin, means we can offer an affordable 3D printing package. Many 3D printing companies do the engineering and then outsource the chemistry – we do everything in-house.
We also offer the largest build volume LCD screen-based printer on the market, with our Liquid Crystal Magna machine, so we’re able to achieve a high level of accuracy on a large scale.
Which industries could benefit the most from your technology?
We’re able to provide 3D printing solutions to industries like dentistry and jewellery, where small and accurate applications are typical, as well as provide solutions for industries where large scale components and prototypes are required.
In particular, we feel that there is huge potential in the dentistry field for Photocentric. After visiting the IDS 2019 show this year, we saw a huge demand for LCD printing in this sector.
That’s why a huge chunk of our research and development is dedicated to producing dental-specific products, such as Liquid Crystal Dental – our optimised dental printer for chairside or lab due for release later this year.
On the other hand, our technology is also suitable for large component applications within the automotive and entertainment industries. The scope is huge, especially considering the versatility of our LCD printer developments.
Could you share one or two successful applications of how your technology has been used?
One unique customer is Quimbaya Orfebreria, an Argentinian goldsmith that produces craft special pieces for its customers.
As demand began to outweigh supply and they faced design limitations, Quimbaya decided to push traditional methods aside and introduce 3D printing into their workflow. They chose to use our high-resolution LC Precision 1.5 desktop printer.
By using 3D printing, they were able to reduce their manufacturing time by 80%. Their production also increased by 400% and they are now able to produce more intricate and complex designs for their clients.
Closer to home in the UK, another example is the Robert Jones and Agnes Hunt Orthopaedic Hospital in Oswestry, a specialist orthopaedic hospital with a long tradition of innovation in the treatment of their patients.
With the use of models printed on the LC Pro, the predecessor of LC Magna, a surgeon was able to help plan a complex femoral osteotomy in a juvenile patient who had a hip deformity. The necessary cuts were planned in advance, along with pre-shaping the implant needed for successful correction. These 3D prints ultimately saved the NHS over £1000 and saved an hour of in-theatre time.
What are some of the challenges that need to be overcome to accelerate the adoption of additive manufacturing?
The greatest challenge is the lack of material properties.
When we first started in 3D printing, we found that three key issues were preventing the wider adoption of 3D printing: 1) the extremely high cost, 2) the lack of manufacturing scalability and 3) the lack of functional properties.
LCD screens have certainly changed the first problem, with thousands of lower-cost mobile screens offering extremely high-resolution printing. Large-format LCD screens have started to answer the problem of scale, however, the issue around material properties is yet to be properly addressed.
We’re currently working with BASF to develop the widest range of resins offering durable properties than can be used functionally in industry.
How do you see additive manufacturing technologies and the industry evolving?
For us, LCD screens are truly disruptive and will change the game for SLA printing.
Through LCD screens, we can enable the custom mass manufacture of parts, either through single large screens that can produce large parts in a fraction of the time of technologies using lasers or projectors, or a series of smaller, higher-resolution screens that produce lots of smaller parts.
I also see all machines becoming automatic, removing the need for manual intervention. I expect that functional 3D-printed plastic parts will be used in production lines within 2 years, as the benefits of the absence of tooling, custom designs and freedom of geometry are utilised industrially.
The other change I see transforming the manufacture of ceramic and metal parts is the creation of the green body via 3D printing with subsequent sintering to deliver solid and viable ceramics and metals. This process is both less energy-intensive and lower cost, enabling wider custom manufacture of these materials.
Photocentric recently announced its new Liquid Crystal Magna 3D printer. Could you take us through some of the specs and the benefits of this machine?
The vision behind our LC Magna machine is to enable custom mass manufacture and large component prototyping at a cost-effective price. LC Magna can create hundreds of custom parts at significantly low costs.
LC Magna has a large build volume and offers highly accurate printing, which makes it ideal for custom mass manufacture. Its build volume is 510mm x 280mm x 350mm — which makes it the largest LCD screen-based 3D printer currently available.
LC Magna also has a 23.4” 4K Ultra HD screen, coupled with a custom-built backlight. These two elements work together to ensure extremely high print accuracy and detail. The brightness of the backlight enables the printer to expose 100-micron layers from 3-8 seconds.
The machine is mainly targeted at dental technicians, product designers, engineers and manufacturers, who’ll be able to increase their throughput, speed up assembly productions and reduce lead times.
For example, a glasses manufacturer can now mass-produce 36 optical frames within 12 hours — that’s less than 20 minutes for each set. A dental technician who needs a high volume of patient-specific models can now print 46 flat arches in just over 1 hour – these cost less than £1.06 per arch when used with our in-house Daylight dental model resin.
What do the next 12 months hold for Photocentric?
We believe that the 3D printing industry opens up lots of opportunities — it impacts every aspect of manufacturing. Given the wide variety of unexplored possibilities in this area, we’re heavily involved in a range of exciting projects.
For example, we’re working on a range of new 3D printers to produce plastics, ceramics and metals.
We’re also expanding our team, particularly in the R&D department, to dig deeper into 3D printing metal and ceramics. This will have a dramatic impact on our approach to manufacturing materials.
To learn more about Photocentric, visit: https://photocentricgroup.com/