MultiFab can print 10 different materials

MultiFab-printerResearchers at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab (CSAIL) found a way to make a better, cheaper, more user-friendly printer. In a paper accepted at the SIGGRAPH computer-graphics conference, a CSAIL team presented a 3D prienter that 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.” says 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.

“MultiFab” system was developed by CSAIL researchers from low-cost off-the-shelf components that cost a total of $7,000. Besides Ramos and Matusik, the team includes lead author and former CSAIL postdoc Pitchaya Sitthi-Amorn, former graduate students Joyce Kwan and Justin Lan, research scientist Wenshou Wang, and graduate student Yu Wang of Tsinghua University.

Ramos says that he could imagine printers like MultiFab being used by researchers, manufacturers and consumers.

Companies could edit and finalize designs faster, allowing them to bring products to market sooner. Big-box stores that have already installed single-material 3D printers could graduate to multi-material ones, for use by casual hobbyists and small-business owners alike.

“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 Ramos. “For me, a practical use like that would be the ultimate dream.”

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