MIT's MultiFab 3D Printer Prints in 10 Materials and Embeds Components
Andrew Wheeler posted on September 01, 2015 |
Researchers at the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory reveal features of ne...

MIT recently reported that they've created a 3D printer that fabricates objects from 10 different materials at the same time, using a combination of "machine vision" and 3D scanning. Researchers outlined the features of the new 3D printer, which was created at MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL), in a paper, entitled MultiFab: A Machine Vision Assisted Platform for Multi-material 3D Printing, which was accepted at this year's SIGGRAPH computer graphics conference, 

 Platform is first to use machine vision to self-correct and embed components, saving users money, time and energy
"Platform is first to use machine vision to self-correct and embed components, saving users money, time and energy," according to MIT.
Besides being able to print in 10 different materials, the MultiFab machine, as it’s called, can self-calibrate and self-correct by using a feedback loop that 3D scans to find errors and generate what they call "correction masks." Also unique to the MultiFab is its ability to embed complex components such as sensors and circuits directly onto an object. According to the paper, this means it can produce a finished product with moving parts and electrical components in one print job. 

According to research engineer Javier Ramos, "The platform opens up new possibilities for manufacturing, giving researchers and hobbyists alike the power to create objects that have previously been difficult or even impossible to print." Javier coauthored the paper with Professor Wojciech Matusik’s Computational Fabrication Group and the research was partially enabled by a grant from MIT's Deshpande Center for Technological Innovation. 

So far, the team has 3D printed smart phone cases (directly around the smartphone itself) and light-emitting diode lenses, and they have plans to print while in betting motors, actuators and other components included in the manufacturing of more advanced electronics. The printer was built using inexpensive components that cost about $7,000. 

A 3D printer's capabilities are limited by the materials it uses to fabricate objects. Most multi-material printers work by using extrusion nozzles that emit liquefied thermoplastics, which harden and create an object one layer at a time. The MultiFab jets out microscopic droplets of mixed photopolymers, which is mechanically similar to the way that other industrial 3D printers like Stratasys's PolyJet printers work. 

Ramos envisions the MultiFab being used by designers, engineers, researchers and small businesses to create and test designs at a faster rate. “Picture someone who sells electric wine openers, but doesn’t have $7,000 to buy a printer like this. In the future, they could walk into a FedEx with a design and print out batches of their finished product at a reasonable price,” said Ramos. “For me, a practical use like that would be the ultimate dream.” 

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