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MIT’s Natural Approach to 3D Printing

Even after nearly two decades of development and use, 3D printing is still a relatively new technology. As is the case with most new technologies, the manner in which it is implemented is often based on what people expect from older technologies. Most 3D printers are used to create prototypes, but the creation of a prototype isn’t anything new, 3D printers just make the process faster.

The same is true of many actual products created by 3D printing. Companies use the technology to create the same products that have always existed. Jewelry made using 3D investment casting is basically the same as any other jewelry that resulted from pouring metal into a mold. True breakthroughs in 3D printing will come when companies learn to change the form of their products, rather than just the manner in which they are created.

 

Graded concrete section created by a 3D printer.

Graded concrete section created by a 3D printer. Photo courtesy of MIT.

It is to this end that researchers at MIT are pushing the boundaries of 3D printing. Led by Presidential Fellow Neri Oxman, the Mediated Matter research group looks at how formal design can be influenced and improved by studying natural processes.

One area in which Oxman and her team believe nature can be used to improve on human design is that of variable-density printing. Looking to natural objects like palm trees and human bones, MIT researchers have suggested that structures that have traditionally been made of solid concrete (like walls or pillars) could instead have a density gradient that resulted in lighter structures that retain their load-bearing strength.

It’s Oxman’s hope that this particular idea could not only save on building material costs, but also allow architects to create structures that would be improbable using traditional methods. Taken to an extreme, with the proper materials, graded density in concrete could be used to create walls that were semi-translucent, which would reduce the amount of interior light required.

Below you’ll find a video discussing this aspect of 3D printing.

Source: MIT news

About John Newman

John Newman is a contributing editor to Desktop Engineering magazine. He covers the rapid prototyping and manufacturing beat.

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