I know, I know. Another 3D printing breakthrough that will change our world. Hey, we’re getting there. The latest breakthrough comes from a research team at HRL Laboratories. They developed a new technique to 3D print ceramic materials that are much stronger than previous techniques.

The traditional way to 3D print ceramics involves a process known as sintering. Powders are placed together (either by pressure or heat). Just one problem. This method isn’t all that reliable and can lead to cracks in the final product. The method is also limited to simple shapes.

HRL’s solution? The team developed a “resin formulation.” This resin can be 3D printed into parts of nearly any shape. HRL’s Tobias Schaedler explains how the 3D printing process works. Wherever the laser hits the resin, it cures into a polymer. Here’s what a 3D printed part looks like.

3d printed part

From here, it’s placed in a high-temperature kiln (think furnace or oven) where it is fired overnight. When fired, the polymer is converted into a ceramic.

3d printed part in kiln

The final product can withstand scorching temperatures of over 1,700 degrees Celsius (that’s north of 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit for U.S. peeps). It’s also ten times stronger than similar materials.

“With our new 3D printing process we can take full advantage of the many desirable properties of this silicon oxycarbide ceramic, including high hardness, strength and temperature capability as well as resistance to abrasion and corrosion,” says Schaedler.

Ok, cool. Why is this a big deal?

Because its ceramics. Remember the space shuttle? The heat shield tiles were made of ceramics. Engineers love ceramics because they are light, strong and have great heat tolerance. That makes it a go-to choice for everything from jet engines and rockets to the smallest parts in electronics.

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