HARP Technology – revolutionizing production?

HARP Technology – revolutionizing production?

High area rapid printing technology (or HARP) is a new subset of additive manufacturing or 3D printing which can be used to generate continuous, high-throughput printing of large objects at rapid speeds. HARP is much faster and more efficient than traditional forms of 3d printing and is capable of printing objects the size of an average adult in several hours. The designers of the new HARP technology claim that it is an improvement on older methods of stereolithography where many layers of resin are put down by a printer to create an object. 


The technology was first developed at Northwestern University in 2019, when researchers unveiled a new type of 3D printer capable of dramatically faster production speeds without sacrificing quality or resolution, which is usually extremely difficult to do when attempting to 3D print with large equipment. The research group at Northwestern University, led by Dr. Chad Mirkin, had a stated aim of improving stereolithography printing methods to make it easier for warehouses and manufacturers to eventually transition away from creating their tools and parts with injection molds and fully embrace 3D printing. To accomplish this requires printers that are fast enough to produce parts on demand and the Mirkin group are convinced that High Area Rapid Printing (HARP) might be the technology that makes this a reality.


The process used in the HARP technology essentially consists of converting liquid plastic into hardened objects. Traditional,non-HARP 3D printers are limited by the heat which is produced when they run at fast speeds, with surface temperatures often exceeding 180°C, which is dangerously hot and can lead to parts cracking or deforming. It is unfortunately impossible for 3D printers to reach their top speeds without generating intense amounts of heat. HARP technology seeks to reduce this problem by using a non-stick liquid that is similar to Teflon and which circulates below the resin to reduce heat and cool the system with light projected through the system to rapidly harden the resin. The entire interface of the HARP technology is non-stick, which has the great advantage of removing the need to repeatedly cleave parts from the bottom of the print vat. This in turn allows the printer to work at high speeds without engendering a drop in quality, even when printing large structures. At the moment, traditional 3D printers are incapable of printing small parts at rapid speeds without facing quality issues.The research team at Northwestern University state that the primary benefit of HARP is that it improves printing speeds up to a hundredfold, making it possible to make the switch from on-hand inventory to on-demand printed parts and tools. 


Another advantage of HARP technology is that it is not limited in the size of surfaces and shapes it can print, so a HARP printer could be used to create anything from an airplane wing or turbine blade all the way down to a tiny medical device. The Northwestern University research group have also claimed that HARP overwhelmingly outperforms traditional 3d printers with a 2000x throughput based on estimated 20x scale and 100x speed, while also providing more flexibility in the type of resin selected.


What are the uses of HARP technology?

Azul 3D, a startup company led by Mirkin’s group of researchers at Nothwestern, is currently commercializing and developing the HARP technology and was recently named a Formnext Start-up Challenge winner for 2021. Cody Peterson, the CEO of Azul 3d, outlined the company’s ambitions, saying “Our technology helps manufacturers consolidate parts, create new geometries, secure a digital inventory, support localized manufacturing, and design completely customizable products. Our printers will represent a new paradigm in the industry. We will be the go-to solution for manufacturers of industrial, consumer and automotive goods.” Peterson also revealed where he sees the company’s future, declaring “Azul 3D will fill the gap between traditional additive manufacturing (prototyping, molds & tooling, and limited production runs) and traditional mass manufacturing of plastic goods. Our technology and product portfolio fill this unmet need in today’s manufacturing ecosystem.”


One of the success stories for the new technology took place at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic when the need for personal protective equipment for frontline medical workers spiked and could not be sourced quickly enough to keep up with the exploding health crisis. To try and solve this problem, the team at Azul 3D used their printers to manufacture masks, face shields and goggles at rates much beyond those possible by traditional 3d printing with Azul able to exceed 1,000 shields per day using a 13-foot tall HARP printer that ran 24/7. Azul were also able to speed up the production of their beta printers and, as a result, shipped over 10,000 shields, many of which were sent to the Navajo Nation as it suffered one of the worst COVID outbreaks in America. The company proudly noted that producing thousands of face shields per week would not have been possible with standard 3D printers, underlining the value in unlocking HARP for mass production of other everyday items. Thegreatest advantage of 3D printing is that it eliminates the need for mold-injected production for tools, which requires workers with specialized skills and offers minimal economies of scale since the tools are often produced in small quantities and are single use only whereas HARP technology can be applied to manufacturing everything from small tools and custom parts to massive wind turbine blades.


Azul is a very new player on the 3D printing scene, but the company strongly believes that its powerful technology has the potential to completely revolutionize both small mom and pop shops producing tools and massive corporate manufacturing floors turning out much larger items. It remains to be seen if the company can live up to their slogan, “Your future factory is here!”