Oct 29, 2015 | By Alec

As CAD software can be complex and difficult to learn, prototyping can be an arduous and time consuming process that involves lots of iterations even for small objects. For larger objects, like chairs and tables, things even longer. And that’s exactly why we’re so impressed by a tool built by a team of German researchers from the Hasso Plattner Institute in Potsdam, Germany. Called the Protopiper, this partially 3D printed handheld device quickly and efficiently ‘3D prints’ adhesive tape tubes that can be used to build actual scale models of large objects in a matter of minutes.

This project was masterminded by Harshit Agrawal and Robert Kovacs, with support from the head of the human computer interaction at the lab at the Hasso Plattner Institute Patrick Baudisch. It also involved Udayan Umapathi, Frohnhofen Johannes, Hsiang-Ting Chen and Stefanie Mueller. As you can see for yourself in the clip below, their Protopiper is a clever handheld tool that look like a futuristic gun, but actually is more like a large scale and more practical 3Doodler 3D printing pen. But instead of extruding small amounts of plastic for small projects, the Protopiper enables users to quickly sketch room-sized objects at actual scale.

Think sofas, tables, and cupboards made out of plastic tubes, to see how it fits in your room. ‘The key idea behind protopiper is that it forms adhesive tape into tubes as its main building material, rather than extruded plastic or photopolymer lines. Since the resulting tubes are hollow they offer excellent strength-to-weight ratio, thus scale well to large structures,’ they explain to 3ders.org. ‘The device itself is an assembly line: the tape is drawn from the roll, shaped into a tube, sealed together, and cut off with a wing connector.’

As the German creators explain in a fascinating research paper called ‘Protopiper: Physically Sketching Room-Sized Objects at Actual Scale’, you could almost compare its manufacturing capacity to 3D printing principles, as it quickly connects to each other to form objects. ‘Since the tape is pre-coated with adhesive it connects into tubes quickly, unlike extruded plastic that would require heating and cooling in the kilowatt range,’ they say. But importantly, it also doesn’t require any knowledge of CAD programming or sketching tools. ‘Protopiper allows [users] to sketch the sofa at actual scale. This allows them to verify their questions during sketching already. When finished, they use the measurements of their “protopipe" to either get a custom sofa made or to find a readymade sofa of matching style and dimensions.’

So how does it work? Well, it consists of a few 3D printed parts, such as the tube forming stencils, the cutting mechanism and all the other white parts visible above. The blue handle is partially 3D printed. Along with a couple of motors and electronics, its remarkably simple. ‘Pressing the extrude button on the device drives a pair of geared rollers that draw the tape off the roll. The metal surface and rippled texture of the gears prevent the sticky inside of the tape from getting stuck to the gears,’ they write. ‘The tape is shaped into a tube by the series of guides and stencils. [The] Protopiper now seals the tube by pressing the two overlapping edges together. This function is performed by the same two gears that pull the tape from the roll (Figure 8). Sealing the tape into a tube gives the tube its structural integrity.’ The tubes are finally cut up by two heated plates an and a clamp.

With the help of a clever connector system, these can finally be attached to each other or to existing objects. Called wing connectors, they connect to flat or curved surfaces, and can even be turned into hinges that allow for simple movement mechanisms. It’s a very clever system that enables easy and quick making of just about everything you can think of.

This was proven in a series of experiments, where users – after just a bit of instruction – were able to build very imaginative creations at a moment’s notice. ‘Participants described protopiper as “good for brainstorming and improves creativity”, “fun to use and allows building 3D structures easily and in reasonable time, allowing to represent something for further development or just fun”, “for prototyping and ideation of a concept it creates a new point of view”,’ they say. While 3D printing is definitely a fantastic and fast prototyping tool, this Protopiper seems to take everything to an entirely new level – what you lose in detail, you certainly gain in time and ease.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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blerg wrote at 10/29/2015 5:03:49 PM:

This is the awesomest concept i have seen in a while, im building myself one¡

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