Researchers at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) have developed a low-cost 3D printer capable of 3D printing in 10 different materials at the same time.
The MultiFab system was presented at the SIGGRAPH conference and is the first 3D printer to use 3D scanning techniques to deliver key advantages in accuracy and convenience. The machine aims to be a more accurate, cheaper and user-friendly alternative to current multi-material machines which can be both costly and limited to few material options.
The machine was built using low-cost components for around $7,000 and combats many technical challenges currently found in multi-material printing. Where different materials require varying conditions for extrusion, MultiFab adopts inkjet technology to mix microscopic droplets of photopolymers together.
Printing at a resolution of 40 microns, the machine can self calibrate and uses 3D scanning to detect and feedback errors for each layer. MultiFab gives users the ability to embed complex components like circuits and sensors directly onto the body of an object to ultimately produce a finished product in one print job.
"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," explained Javier Ramos, a research engineer at CSAIL who co-authored the paper with members of professor Wojciech Matusik’s Computational Fabrication Group.
So far the machine has been used to create products such as smart phone cases and LED lenses but the team envisions multiple possibilities in electronics, microsensing, medical imaging and even robotics with the added prospect of embedded motors.
“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,” Ramos says. “For me, a practical use like that would be the ultimate dream.”