3D printed fabric Stanford bunny and 3D printed Japanese sunny doll in two materials.
Researchers at Disney have developed a new type of 3D printer capable of forming soft interactive 3D objects.
Highlighting the demand for customised products and embedded electronics, Disney Research has come up with a new machine that produces soft objects that can support interactive capabilities such as touch sensing and wireless connectivity.
Structured much like a traditional 3D printer, the fabric printer uses layers of off-the shelf fabric to build complex objects which are cut along the 2D contour using a laser cutter and then bonded together using a heat sensitive adhesive. This process is repeated to build up the object layer by layer with unused material left in place to provide support and then removed at the end to reveal a 3D printed object.
The machine is capable of automatically feeding two separate fabric types into a single print which can enable the production of electronically embedded structures in one complete printing process.
A similar layered fabrication process is already is use for materials such as paper and metal but this new technology addresses some of the challenges faced when printing with fabric. The printer also takes inspiration from tool-based cutting by applying an inverted cutting bed which feeds fabric to the bottom of the bed where the desired 2D pattern is then cut with a laser. Layers are then bonded together with a heating disc and a fusible adhesive.
Disney Research has already applied the technology to create proof-of-concept soft objects including a soft mobile phone case containing a printed fabric coil. Though print time is currently slow due to limitations with the bonding method, the team are already looking at the possibility of increasing print speeds with larger motors and modification to support material. If the technology continues to be developed, it could pave the way for things like 3D printed interactive soft toys and other products embedded with electronics which could signal a major breakthrough for artists and makers retailing handmade products.