3D printers have risen to prominence in the last few years, going from a niche product to a tool used in multiple industries, and even sometimes taught in schools. People who have used the devices, however, know that while they can be incredibly useful in some instances, their application is limited by the fact that existing printers are able print objects only using one to three building materials at a time. Thanks to a recent announcement by MIT, that’s all about to change, as the university recently unveiled a new type of 3D printer that can mold with ten different materials at the same time.
The new printer, named MultiFab in tribute to its ability to fabricate objects from multiple materials concurrently, was developed by the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab (CSAIL) at MIT. CSAIL’s objective was to create a less expensive, more user-friendly 3D printer that could be used for a wider variety of applications than the types currently available on the market. According to the study the CSAIL team unveiled at the SIGGRAPH 2015 conference, they have achieved that goal: Not only is their new type of printer able to create a wider variety of objects than the standard model, but it is also cheaper, produces high quality objects, and requires little to no human intervention to work.
A New Era of 3D Printers?
In addition to being able to manufacture a wider variety of objects from more kinds of materials than the 3D printers currently on the market, CSAIL also reports that the MultiFab printer is able to print better quality items, thanks to its powerful software, which the team has dubbed “computer vision.” MultiFab’s scanner is also more powerful than the ones used by current printers, and is able to capture higher resolution images. Because it is able to take better quality scans of the objects it replicates, MultiFab requires less human intervention and does not require the use of complicated machine systems that current printers use to smooth out the individual layers as they print. Whereas traditional 3D printers have trouble scanning through materials that are only partially translucent, MultiFab’s high resolution scanner is able to scan through partially opaque material with ease.
MultiFab’s creators also say that the machine can be used for easy multi-part printing. Traditionally, many complex objects that are made from multiple pieces have to be printed in parts, with each component made separately. According to CSAIL, MultiFab is able to print the multiple parts of such objects concurrently, making them ready to use as soon as they have been printed. MultiFab’s creators also say that machinery such as sensors and circuits can be entered directly into the printer, which will then incorporate them into the object being printed.
If MultiFab can do everything its creators say it can do, it could very well represent a new era of 3D printing, with designers, engineers, and architects able to print more and more complex designs straight from their CAD files, saving money and time in the process.
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