3D-printing took a giant leap forward this week when an MIT research team announced they have developed a low-cost 3D printer that can use up to 10 different materials for one project. The innovation comes out of MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab (CSAIL) and they are calling it “MultiFab” for its ability to handle so many different types of material at the same time. This approach, which also includes vision assistance, can potentially save users time, energy and money. Some users of 3D-printing technology can pick one of two of those, but all three in the same machine is unprecedented at this level.
MultiFab represents a big advancement in multimedia printing. Previously, the highest number of different materials one 3D printer could manage was three. With MultiFab’s record 10 material capability, it blows its predecessors out of the water. Instead of using extrusion like existing 3D printers, this one mixes microscopic droplets of photopolymers and sends them through inkjet printerheads that are similar to an office printer. Compared to other multi-material 3D printers that cost up to $250,000, MultiFab was built with off-the-shelf components for just $7,000.
Additionally, the MIT creation uses a sophisticated technology called “machine vision,” which essentially means the machine has built-in ‘eyes’ that can actually recognize what they are looking at. The machine scans an object and self-calibrates at each layer of a design, for which other machines require human intervention. Machine vision also makes it possible to print in and around existing objects, such as microchips or LEDs, with the result being a finished product – no assembly required.
The team’s findings are reported in a paper just accepted at the SIGGRAPH computer-graphics conference.
Images via MIT’s CSAIL