3D printing is all the rage, and designers around the world are competing to see how they can create the biggest, most jaw-dropping stuff. Here at Inhabitat, we’ve featured lots of cool 3D designs, from prosthetic legs to moon rocks. The most successful objects are usually small and relatively compact. Big stuff, like airplanes or entire houses, just doesn’t lend itself to 3D-printing… or does it? A pair of MIT scientists say that the key to 3D-printing larger designs is to build them out of small, uniform blocks, that function just like LEGO bricks.

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In a paper recently published in Science, Kenneth Cheung and Neil Gershenfeld discuss a new construction method whereby really big things can be created out of really small 3D-printed building blocks. Looking something like a ninja star, these tiny, four-pointed composite blocks are extremely lightweight and can be snapped together much like LEGO bricks.

“The parts, based on a novel geometry that Cheung developed with Gershenfeld, form a structure that is 10 times stiffer for a given weight than existing ultralight materials,” explains MIT’s David Chandler. “But this new structure can also be disassembled and reassembled easily — such as to repair damage, or to recycle the parts into a different configuration.”

The duo claim that the new technique allows much less material to carry a given load, something that could allow things like planes and automobiles to be 3D printed at a reduced cost, while resulting in lower fuel use and operating costs.

The new construction technique also introduces a new element of design freedom into composite manufacturing, explains MIT News. “The researchers show that by combining different part types, they can make morphing structures with identical geometry but that bend in different ways in response to loads: Instead of moving only at fixed joints, the entire arm of a robot or wing of an airplane could change shape.”


via Gizmodo

All images courtesy Kenneth Cheung/MIT