In the latest of a series of technological developments which are expanding the capabilities of 3D Printing, researchers at MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) have developed a 3D printer that is capable of handling up to 10 materials simultaneously, and uses a process called "machine vision" to dramatically increase the variety of objects which the printer can produce.
As reported by International Business Times, this is not the first multi-material 3D printer; the Stratasys Objet 500 Connex3, released last year is already capable of such a feat. However, while the Stratasys printer retails at up to $250,000, CSAIL's new "MultiFab" printer cost just $7,000 to build. Even so, perhaps a bigger breakthrough offered by MultiFab are the opportunities afforded by the printer's innovative "machine vision."
Machine vision is almost exactly what it sounds like. While conventional 3D printers convert model data into a path which they obliviously follow (with sometimes entertaining results), machine vision uses a 3D scanner to constantly feed data back to the printer, allowing it to check the object produced against the original model and self-correct any errors, meaning MultiFab requires much less human supervision.
Machine vision also allows the printer to adapt in complex manufacturing processes. For example, if a user adds a specialized component into the print bed, MultiFab is capable of recognizing the component as part of the model it is creating and working around it. With this process, CSAIL has so far been able to print lenses for LEDs, a plastic handle for a metal blade, and smartphone cases that print around the smartphone.
With MultiFab, CSAIL's ultimate goal is a printer that can create finished products including robotics, consumer electronics, medical imaging, microsensing and telecommunications. Given this, it might not be immediately obvious what role MultiFab might play in the world of architecture - but with architects constantly finding ways to incorporate 3D printing technology into their work, we'd like to know what our readers think: what architectural applications can you imagine for MultiFab?
Read more about MultiFab at International Business Times and CSAIL's open access paper: "MultiFab: A Machine Vision Assisted Platform for Multi-material 3D Printing."