A new software developed at MIT enables laypeople to 3D print prototypes of their own design. Much like traditional image editing software, Foundry lets you edit designs, with the added twist that they can be printed 3 dimensionally using up to 10 different kinds of materials (via MIT)
Printing 3 dimensional designs has been around for awhile, but the materials used have often been limiting. Most 3D printers can only print using one kind of material as well. A lot of good designs end up being pretty limited, due to the constraints of the printer and the design ability of the user. Printing objects with multiple materials has presented a big hurdle as well, due to the nature of the materials and the time required to functionally put them together. After spending days working on a design, engineers would often discover it wasn’t really a feasible prototype.
Enter MIT’s MultiFab. Based out of the university’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, a team of researchers has launched a software and printing system which allows people with limited programming ability to print their own multiple-material prototypes. Much like image editing software lets you make all kinds of fanciful pictures, Foundry enables you to make them a reality. How does it work? You design your prototype on the software, which has various parameters and possible materials that can be incorporated into the object. The software communicates with the printing system, and your image, edited in Foundry, is brought to life.
How nice are the designs? Currently the resolution is 40 microns, just under half the width of a strand of human hair.
In addtition, the 3-D printer designed by the team is self-correcting. The machine vision detects errors made while printing and is able to fix them, without human input. The printers also self-calibrate. These processes historically took time and skill to get just right, so this system frees you to focus more on actual design.
Unlike traditional 3D printers, which squirt material through an extruder, the ones in use at MultiFab print more like an office printer, with an inkjet squirting tiny dots onto a surface. This lets you make complex, tiny layers of material throughout the printing process.
The team has already used Foundry and the 3D printers to make smartphone cases and diode casings. They predict that this is just the tip of the iceberg. The 3D printing system they made cost just $7,000, which is easily affordable by many companies and universities. With more people able to make progressively complex objects, they may be right.
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