MIT's MultiFab 3D printer can print 10 different materials at once, has an open-platform design, and can be built for under $7,000.
Sound impossible? It's not. Can you buy that printer now? Not yet. But you can start building one yourself: the new open-platform machine from a team at MIT uses off-the-shelf hardware and they include lots of details in their paper presented at SIGGRAPH 2015.
Javier Ramos, a research engineer at MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligent Lab (CSAIL), co-authored the paper with members of professor Wojciech Matusik's Computational Fabrication Group, which investigates digital manufacturing and computer graphics. The paper and the supplementary material it references, including complete details on how the printer and its subsystems are built and assembled, plus materials sources is available on the MultiFab project page. The paper also describes the printer's Fabricator application, which runs on the CPU, and provides an open API the modules use for interfacing with the Fabricator.
The MultiFab 3D printer uniquely integrates a machine vision system for self-calibration of printheads, 3D scanning, and self-corrections to prints made with closed-loop feedback. This one feature simplifies the machine's design and makes it possible to 3D print on or around existing parts, like printing optical lenses on top of LEDs, or placing your iPhone in the printer and programming the system to print a case around the phone.
MultiFab is high-resolution, 40 microns or better just like high-end commercial 3D printers. So it isn't a speed king, but its print times aren't too shabby, either: two hours for an LED lens, for example, and longer, of course, for larger and more complex objects. Yes, we did say “lens” — the materials library presently includes 15 UV-curable photopolymers with a wide range of optical, mechanical and appearance properties, including rigid, elastic, high refractive index, and low refractive index materials, as well as a support material. Instead of the several hundred dollars per kg cost of materials for high-end commercial machines, this printer's materials cost is about $20 per kg.
(Source: Tom Buehler/CSAIL)
The equipment itself is not very expensive compared to what's on the market now, Lux Research analyst Anthony Vicari told Design News . The closest comparisons handle only three materials and cost $50,000 to $300,000. “All the other numbers they reported, such as speed and resolution, are pretty standard,” Vicari said. “But the open platform design, the off-the-shelf hardware and the open API exposing more of the layers close to the hardware — these make a huge difference in terms of what a skilled user can do with such a system. This is potentially more disruptive then just adding a few more print heads.”
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