Researchers at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab (CSAIL) presented, at the SIGGRAPH computer-graphics conference, a 3D printer “MultiFab” that can print 10 different materials at once using 3D-scanning techniques that save the user time, energy and money.
MultiFab developed from low-cost off-the-shelf components that cost a total of $7,000, offers a delivering resolution of 40 microns or less than half the width of a human hair. MultiFab has the ability to embed complex components like circuits and sensors directly onto the body of an object, i.e. it can produce a finished product, moving parts, etc. in a single fell.
As MultiFab can self-calibrate and self-correct, users are set free from doing the fine-tuning themselves. The system’s feedback loop 3D-scans and detects errors for each layer of the design and generates correction masks, which uses inexpensive hardware and ensures print accuracy.
Javier Ramos, a research engineer at CSAIL who co-authored the paper with members of professor Wojciech Matusik’s Computational Fabrication Group said that the platform provides new possibilities for manufacturing, giving researchers and hobbyists a power to create objects that have previously been difficult to print.
The team also plan to embed motors and actuators that would make it possible to 3D-print more advanced electronics, including robots.
Printing something complex usually involves printing all of the individual pieces separately, and then having a person assemble them, but MultiFab, can automatically scan the 3D geometries of the all the components need to be printed and uses that information to print other objects around them. For example, a perfectly-sized iPhone case can be directly printed onto the phone.
MultiFab mixes microscopic droplets of photopolymers together that are then sent through inkjet printheads similar to office printers. The computationally-intensive process, which involves crunching dozens of gigabytes of visual data at a time, can be much more easily scaled to larger objects and multiple materials.
Ramos foresee the use of MultiFab by researchers, manufacturers and consumers. Companies could edit and finalize designs faster to bring products to market. Ramos says that a practical use like people walking into a FedEx with a design and printing batches of their finished product at a reasonable price would be his ultimate dream.