3D printing technology is advancing in huge leaps, but most printers are still only able to create objects from only one type of material. The few printers that are able to print in multiple materials are excruciatingly slow and difficult to use.
But a new software pipeline developed by MIT researchers will make multi-material 3D printing a lot faster and easier, paving the way to creating objects of different texture and density practically in one go.
Current 3D printing methods using multiple materials require the creation of complex codes so as to instruct the printer how to produce various sections of the printable object. This would imply storing and processing huge amounts of data to print even a tiny object, which would make the entire process quite cumbersome and lengthy.
And this is where MIT’s research comes in. The university’s CSAIL (Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab) team created the OpenFab software pipeline using a technique similar to the movie industry’s in creating 3D images.
The OpenFab makes multi-material 3D printing simpler by using special programs called fablets. Thus, the software streams only a small part of the printing data to the printer, instead of jamming it with petabytes of information about the entire project right from the start. This makes the entire computational process a whole lot easier, allowing the printing process to begin almost instantaneously.
Besides enabling the use of multiple materials, the 3D printing software also lets users change the feel and look of a single material used in the printing process. For instance, the material consistency of an object printed in the same material can be changed from stiff on one end to flexible on the other, CSAIL researchers explained.
The team also designed a new algorithm aimed at creating a virtually infinite number of material arrangements in a model. Basically, the Spec2Fab will be able to automatically determine the best material composition for a particular model, without requiring the users to select the materials manually.
The new software promises to make multi-material 3D printing a lot faster and more affordable, while also making it a lot easier to create objects of different colors and textures. The MIT team has officially unveiled the new software and several prototypes created with it at the end of last month.
Check out the video below to see how Spec2Fab is used to print various objects and let us know what you think of the new technology.