3D printers have amazed many modern consumers for their ability to create physical 3D objects from a computer model, although most 3D printers only generate objects using a lightweight polymer that resembles colored plastic. But the future of 3D printers is about to change, thanks to a group of scientists at MIT who have developed a printer that can print objects using up to 10 different materials at once.
According to Science Alert, the “MultiFab” printer was created by a team from the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab (CSAIL) at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. While some other 3D printers have the capability of using more than one material, the MultiFab printer has broken a record by using 10 materials on the same object. This allows the machine to print more complex objects than any other 3D printer on the market.
“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,” said Javier Ramos, a CSAIL research engineer who helped develop the MultiFab 3D printer.
And the MultiFab is not only revolutionary, it’s also a cheaper and more efficient model. When compared to other 3D printers that can print using multiple materials (which cost around a quarter of a million dollars), the MultiFab is also amazingly affordable at only $7,000. And, according to CSAIL, the MultiFab is also more user-friendly. The user can scan 3D objects using “techniques from machine-vision,” which allows the 3D printer to calibrate and guide the printing process in real time.
The MultiFab also has an advantage over other models of 3D printer by replacing the material extrusion method of building objects up layer by layer with a much more precise method of blending microscopic drops of photopolymers together. The machine is so precise that the researchers claim you could print an iPhone case onto the mobile device directly, without damaging the phone or the 3D printer.
“Right now a big portion of 3D printing, the hardware that’s available, is focused on printing form and objects for prototype,” Ramos says. “The holy grail is to print things that are fully functional right out of the printer, combining multiple materials with many different properties, but also existing objects that have some inherent functionality. 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. For me, a practical use like that would be the ultimate dream.”
What do you think of the 3D printer that can use 10 materials at once? Would it be worth the price?
[Image credit: MIT]