The discovery has the potential to advance the world of additive manufacturing. (Credit: University of Florida)

A method for 3D printing called vapor-induced phase-separation 3D printing, or VIPS-3D, can create single-material as well as multi-material objects. It could be useful for manufacturing porous medical implants.

The printing process allows manufacturers to create custom-made objects economically and sustainably. To understand the process, imagine using special ecofriendly liquids to make the ink for a 3D printer. These dissolvable polymer-based liquids can include metal or ceramic particles. When you print with this ink, a non-solvent vapor is released into the printing area. This vapor makes the liquid part of the ink solidify, leaving behind the solid material — called the vapor-induced phase-separation process.

The process allows manufacturers to 3D print multi-material parts with spatially tunable, multi-scale porosity, which means creating structures that have different kinds of substances at different locations and with varied levels of porousness.

The object’s porousness refers to its having tiny holes or gaps, and this is created by adjusting printing conditions and/or how much sacrificial material is used during the VIPS-3DP process. This can be useful for manufacturing things like porous medical implants or lightweight aerospace products.

In addition to requiring less investments in infrastructure, the VIPS-3DP process is a greener option to traditional printing methods because it uses sustainable materials and less energy.