Nervous System Brings 4D Printing Out of the Lab

One of the limiting factors for parts and products produced through additive manufacturing (AM) is the build size of the 3D printer in use. Larger AM systems tend to be more expensive to both purchase and to run (more material usage), but do allow for larger batch runs and designs to be built in one piece rather than several. Cutting a design into pieces is just one method of overcoming limited build space. A manufacturing and design process dubbed 4D printing is another.

With 4D printing, objects can be squashed down in size by varying the density of the object and building an object out of multiple smaller parts. This allows for objects to be build that far exceed the size of the print envelope. Until recently, 4D printing has mainly been an exercise in theory, but a company named Nervous System has brought the process out of the lab and into retail space. Continue reading

A New Twist on Large-Scale Additive Manufacturing

The design constraints of additive manufacturing (AM) are mainly centered on build space, rather than complexity. People can (and do) design all kinds of crazy geometries to be produced via AM, but larger parts or prototypes require the object be built in multiple parts for later construction, or simply a larger 3D printer. This is one reason why a move toward larger AM systems has been an industry trend for the last few years.

The old maxim says to work smarter, not harder. What if, instead of building larger and larger 3D printers, we could develop a method of building large-scale objects inside the restricted dimensions of existing 3D printers? Researchers at MIT have developed a new method of printing large objects in limited build envelopes that they call Hyperform. Continue reading

Additive Manufacturing Leveraged for Composite Construction

Everything can be broken down into its component parts. You are composed of cells, your car is made of a pile of metal and plastic, and even your pen is built from multiple components. When it comes to truly large-scale construction of buildings or machinery, the number of parts involved runs into the thousands.

Scientists at MIT want to simplify construction by, paradoxically, increasing the number of parts required to build something. Kenneth Cheung and Neil Gershenfeld have developed a system of identical interlocking composite parts that can be assembled to build just about anything. Continue reading

3D Printed Keys Make a Mockery of Security

I don’t really like covering the whole 3D printed guns fiasco. The whole thing seems to be begging for a knee-jerk reaction from lawmakers and is based more on fear than an actual threat. Low tech guns have been around for a while, and that’s pretty much the status of 3D printed guns.

No, if I’m going to cover the less than savory uses additive manufacturing (AM) has been put to, I’d much rather look at less dangerous aspects. Like printing keys, for example. A group of MIT students have developed a method to replicate high security keys using a 3D printer. Continue reading

OpenFab and Spec2Fab Offer New Possibilities for Additive Manufacturing

Some of the most exciting breakthroughs in additive manufacturing (AM) don’t revolve around the newest 3D printer to hit the market. Nor do they revolve solely around the properties of the newest material. Simplifying and expanding on the manner in which materials can be used have the potential for the greatest impact on the industry.

Researchers at MIT have developed two new methods for dealing with multi-material objects built with AM. These projects are named OpenFab and Spec2Fab. OpenFab offers a “programmable pipeline” for the actual printing process, while Spec2Fab focuses on simplifying the composition of a multi-material object. Continue reading