Updated: August 26, 2015 7:37:26 pm
MIT scientists have developed a cheaper and more user-friendly 3D printer that can print with a record-breaking 10 materials at a time.
‘Multi-material’ 3D printers that can fabricate many different functional items have traditionally been limited to three materials at a time and can cost as much as USD 250,000 each, and still require a fair amount of human intervention.
Researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab (CSAIL) have developed a cheaper, more user-friendly printer from low-cost off-the-shelf components that cost a total of USD 7,000. The device can print an unprecedented 10 different materials at once by using 3D-scanning techniques that save the user time, energy and money.
Delivering resolution at the level of 40 microns, or less than half the width of a human hair, the ‘MultiFab’ system is the first 3D printer to use 3D-scanning techniques from machine-vision, which offers two key advantages over traditional 3D printing.
First, MultiFab can self-calibrate and self-correct, freeing users from having to do the fine-tuning themselves. For each layer of the design, the system’s feedback loop 3D-scans and detects errors and then generates so-called ‘correction masks.’ This approach allows the use of inexpensive hardware while ensuring print accuracy.
Secondly, MultiFab gives users the ability to embed complex components like circuits and sensors directly onto the body of an object, meaning that it can produce a finished product, moving parts and all, in one fell swoop.
“The platform opens up new possibilities for manufacturing, giving researchers and hobbyists alike the power to create objects that have previously been difficult or even impossible to print,” said Javier Ramos, a research engineer at CSAIL who co-authored the paper with members of professor Wojciech Matusik’s Computational Fabrication Group.
The team has used MultiFab to print everything from smartphone cases to LED lenses, and envision an array of applications in consumer electronics, microsensing, medical imaging, and telecommunications, among other things. They plan to also experiment with embedding motors and actuators that would make it possible to 3D-print more advanced electronics, including potentially even robots.
In 3D printing, different materials have to be printed in specific ways with regard to factors like pressure and temperature, and so printing something complex usually involves printing all of the individual pieces separately, and then having a person assemble them by hand.
But with MultiFab, users simply put the components into the platform, which automatically scans their 3D geometries and uses that information to print other objects around them. For example, one can put an iPhone right into the printer, and programme the system to print a perfectly-sized case that is directly affixed onto the phone.
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