A new 3D printer capable of manufacturing objects with up to ten materials at once has been unveiled.
MIT’s (apparently very busy) Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) released video of the printer, which they say is cheaper and “more user-friendly” than previous multi-material printers.
In a paper accepted at the SIGGRAPH computer-graphics conference the team showed off the printer, which requires no human intervention while in operation. It can draw at a level of 40 microns — less than half the width of a human hair — can self-calibrate and self-correct, and can print circuits directly within objects.
“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 along with members of Professor Wojciech Matusik’s Computational Fabrication Group.
The machine was constructed with components costing just $7,000, which compares favourably to the price of commercial multi-material printers, which MIT say is usually closer to $250,000 (for just three materials).
The key to the system is its ability to scan and print directly onto other objects — the team says you could put an iPhone into the machine and print a case directly onto it. Instead of extrusion — in which components are layered onto each other like icing on a cake — the machine “mixes microscopic droplets of photopolymers together that are then sent through inkjet printheads similar to the ones you see in office printers”. This requires more computing power — gigabytes of data at a time — but can more easily be scaled up with multiple materials.
Ramos said that the future of this printer doesn’t necessarily require everyone who wants to use one to own one.
“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,” said Ramos. “For me, a practical use like that would be the ultimate dream.”