One of the main sticking points about additive manufacturing or 3-D printing is its speed. To put it simply, most every approach to the process requires building and shaping layers upon layers. Because each layer has to be done separately, that takes a lot of time. Even with other measures of manufacturing being highly efficient, such as mobile warehouse management and enterprise resource planning, the production of the materials themselves remains slow, which is why many manufacturers are hesitant to utilize additive manufacturing for more than prototyping or certain made-to-order parts. However, a new continuous technique may cut down the time on production, making it a far more viable option in the future.

Rising liquid
Researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have managed to create an entirely new method of additive manufacturing using a liquid resin as the raw material. Called continuous liquid interface production, the process is unique in that all it requires is the base material, ultraviolet light and specially designed basin to project the light from below. Resin itself is not a new or novel material in 3-D printing, often used to as the base material for such methods as extrusion and digital light processing. However, the technique is helped by a very thin membrane at the bottom of the tub, which lets UV rays through while keeping oxygen that slows the curing process out, according to Popular Science.

Basically, the UV light is placed underneath the lamp, and the liquid resin gets baked by the rays. The caked material sticks a plate, which rises as the material is being constructed. The removed material creates a suction effect that draws in the rest of the resin. Thanks to the membrane, none of the cured material sticks to bottom of the basin, making the process cleaner and faster.

A quick move
The primary benefit of the system is immediately obvious to manufacturers: speed. As videos provided to Popular Science and other outlets demonstrated, the process is extremely fast in comparison to the layering techniques found in most other additive manufacturing processes. The speed is at least two orders of magnitude faster when developing the product. The researchers told sources like IEEE Spectrum that they're capable of creating objects at a speed of one meter per hour, at least 25 to 100 times the average speed of most other methods. More importantly, detail is not an issue: Currently, the process can print features less than 20 microns wide, or 2 percent of a millimeter.

Currently, the researchers in the UNC lab are working with a start-up called Carbon 3D to develop a working machine that is available to the public by the end of 2015. The team just published their findings in Science Magazine. With this new possibility in place, plastics manufacturers can improve their efficiency dramatically within the production process, making additive manufacturing a more viable process in any operation. Combining it with effective ERP software such as Microsoft Dynamics NAV 2015 can make a major difference in how orders are managed and what companies can actually create.

Learn more about the future of manufacturing and ERP with the white paper "ERP in Manufacturing: Creating a Hub for Visibility, Collaboration, and Innovation" today.