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2015

multifabmachine.jpg

This orange beast is MIT's newest 3D printer. Researchers at MIT have made a new 3D printer with the ability to print up to 10 materials at once. (via MIT)

 

3D printing has been around for a few years now and we're always finding new uses for the technology. From making wearable clothes to Lego pictures, these printers present endless possibilities for creators, except when it comes to materials. One of the biggest set backs of these devices is how they usually stick to one type of precursor such as plastic, metal, or glass. Sure, you can find a printer that put out three materials at once, but it comes with a $250,000 price.

 

But now a team of researchers at MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab (CSAIL) have found a way to make these printers cheaper, better, and more accessible. This new 3D printer has the ability to print ten different materials at once by using advanced 3D-scanning techniques from machine-vision. Given the name MultiFab it doesn't put out materials, rather it mixes small droplets of photopolymers together and shoots them through inkjet-like printers.

 

The MultiFab has a few advantages over regular 3D printers. For one thing, it can calibrate and correct itself ensuring that users don't have to pull their hair out trying to do it themselves. The system's feedback scans itself and finds the errors in order to correct them. Another advantage is that it gives users the opportunity to embed components like circuits and sensors directly onto the body of an object. In other words, it lets the printer add already made objects and prints around them.

 

Currently, the research team has used the MultiFab to make an array of objects, such as smartphone cases and LED lenses, but they have bigger ideas as to what the device can make. They believe it'll be possible to make various applications in electronics, medical imaging, and telecommunications. They also plan to experiment with embedding motors and actuators that would give it the ability to make more advanced electronics, maybe even robots.


The MultiFab was made from off-the-shelf parts for a total of $7,000, which is more expensive than hobbyist models, but still cheaper than high end industrial 3D printers. While the device would no doubt gain the interest of large companies and business owners, the teams also hopes it would appeal to hobbyists as well.

 

“Picture someone who sells electric wine-openers, but doesn’t have $7,000 to buy a printer like this. In the future they could walk into a FedEx with a design and print out batches of their finished product at a reasonable price,” says Javier Ramos, a research engineer at CSAIL. “For me, a practical use like that would be the ultimate dream.”


 

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