It’s the holiday season, and I’m constantly being bombarded with the same question over and over again. “What would you like for Christmas?” As an impulsive individual who usually just makes or buys what I want, I never really know what to say. Until now. If any of my loved ones are reading this post, I desperately want this remarkable, state-of-the-art 3D printer.
Researchers from MIT, the MIT spinout Inkbit, and ETH Zurich have been diligently working on a new 3D inkjet printer that will change what types of projects can be printed and what materials can be used. Unlike other 3D printers, this innovative printer employs computer vision to scan the 3D printing surface and automatically adjust the amount of resin being used. This enhancement means that no area will have too much or too little material.
Researchers began with a multimaterial 3D printer called MultiFab, which was developed by the team in 2015. The printer features 16,000 nozzles that can deposit droplets of UV-curable resin and has the ability to use up to 10 different types of materials at once. To expand upon their previous design, the researchers developed the vision-controlled jetting technique. This method incorporates four high-frame-rate cameras and two lasers that continuously scan and photograph the print surface as the droplets are being deposited. The photos are then instantly converted into a high-resolution depth map. The system then compares the map to the CAD model and effortlessly adjusts the amount of resin being used in real time. This precision allows the researchers to use wax as a support material to create cavities and channels than can be later melted away.
This unique printing process, which does not require mechanical parts to smooth the resin, allows users to work with a range of materials, including slower-curing varieties that can offer improved performance over traditional acrylates. In addition, the automatic nature of the new 3D printer allows the machine to print 660 times faster than comparable systems.
The corresponding research paper, titled “Vision-controlled jetting for composite systems and robots,” was recently published in Nature. In an excerpt from the paper, the authors wrote: “We show the new capabilities of our printing process through several functional multimaterial systems that were inspired by nature. After printing, our system only requires dissolving the support structure, connecting pneumatic supply lines and, in some cases, sealing the support’s drainage holes. In summary, we present a robotic hand, a walking robot, a robotic heart and a metamaterial structure. The tendon-driven hand derives from the magnetic resonance imaging data of a human hand, and it has contact sensor pads at the fingertips and on the palm. The walking robot locomotes with six legs, senses contact with the environment, and manipulates objects with its manipulator arm. The shape of the fluidic pump and its integrated valves were inspired by a mammalian heart. Finally, the truss-like metamaterial allows for preprogrammed changes in the material stiffness.”
In a recent quote, Wojciech Matusik, a professor of electrical engineering and computer science at MIT who leads the Computational Design and Fabrication Group, said, “Our key insight here was to develop a machine-vision system and completely active feedback loop. This is almost like endowing a printer with a set of eyes and a brain, where the eyes observe what is being printed, and then the brain of the machine directs it as to what should be printed next,”