Aug.16, 2013

MIT researchers have developed a lightweight structure whose tiny blocks can be 3D printed and snapped together much like the Lego bricks.

Assemblies of the cellular composite material are seen from different perspectives, showing the repeating "cuboct" lattice structure, made from many identical flat cross-shaped pieces. Photo courtesy of Kenneth Cheung

The concept arose in response to the question, "Can you 3D print an airplane?" The researchers, postdoc Kenneth Cheung and Neil Gershenfeld, director of MIT's Center for Bits and Atoms, realized that 3D printing was an impractical approach at such a large scale. But what about 3D printing thousands of tiny, identical, interlocking parts?

"The parts, based on a novel geometry that Cheung developed with Gershenfeld, form a structure that is 10 times stiffer for a given weight than existing ultralight materials." write the researchers.

The team is now developing an assembler robot that can crawl, insectlike, over the surface of a growing structure, adding pieces one by one to the existing structure.

The new structure is easy for transportation and could save fuel use and operating costs. It can also be disassembled and reassembled easily. What's more, the new modular system tends to fail only incrementally, meaning it is more reliable and can more easily be repaired, the researchers say. "It's a massively redundant system," Gershenfeld says.

In the lab, a sample of the cellular composite material is prepared for testing of its strength properties. Photo courtesy of Kenneth Cheung

The new material, the researchers say, could revolutionize the assembly of airplanes, spacecraft, and even larger structures, such as dikes and levees.

With conventional composites, each piece is manufactured as a continuous unit so suppliers have to build enormous facilities to make big aerostructures. The new technique allows greater design flexibility, and the structures can be disassembled and reassembled when needed. It has significant potential to lower manufacturing costs.

The new approach to construction is described in a paper appearing in the journal Science.



Posted in 3D Printing Applications



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Nicholas wrote at 8/16/2013 10:55:51 PM:

This may save the US from total dissolution yet.

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