Mar.6, 2013 | By Anne van der Meij
3D printers come with gantries. Put the printer on a robotic arm instead and dream of exciting new ways to print without limiting support material or limiting axes. Neri Oxman, architect and founder of the Mediated Matter Group, already thought of it. She and her group planned to 3D print a 3m-high pavilion by “freeform” printing.
Freeform printing basically means 3D printing by using robot arms. Oxman believes that using robot arms has more potential for architecture than existing 3D printing systems. She states that 3D-printing systems using gantries are able to move only in three directions. At the same time they need structures to prevent the built components of collapsing under their own weight. The robot arm frees up the limitation of the axes, for one can use a boom arm of desired reach. In this way the variation of properties and the assembling of various parts together are controlled too.
But how can you prevent the built components to collapse under their own weight without any supporting structures? According to the Mediated Matter Group this can be achieved by imitating the way a silkworm builds its cocoon. A silk worm is able to produce a cocoon with a tough exterior and soft interior by varying the density and pattern of the silk fibers it deposits.
Entangled Silk Fibers of Silkworm cocoons.
Custom multi-fiber extrusion head on robotic arm.
The researchers tracked the motion of a silk worm building its cocoon and translated the data to a 3D printer connected to a robotic arm. This arm will deposit silk fibers and a gluey “matrix” using the same figure-of-eight motion. The printer will produce these fibers in the same way as a silk worm uses to build its casing. A new material called shrilk may be the material for the gluey matrix, which is a mixture of discarded shrimp shells and proteins extracted from silk.
The promising computer numerically controlled silk cocoon construction (CNSilk) pavilion will be built at MIT’s MediaLab using a Kuka robotic arm on 22 April and its size will be 12 feet by 12 feet (366 x 366 cm).
Don’t just see 3D printing on a gantry. In the future freeform 3D printing will be a method of depositing material, and the sky will be the only limit.
Posted in 3D Printing Technology
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