Mar 9, 2017 | By David

It’s always encouraging to see how many 3D technology innovations are geared towards making the lives of people with disabilities a little easier. We’re excited to report that a project by researchers at Texas A&M University will continue this trend, as they have come up with a new way to make Braille labels for all kinds of consumer products using 3D printing.

Undergraduate students from the Department of Mechanical Engineering, under the guidance of assistant professor Dr. Tanil Ozkan, are working on a way to mass produce adhesive labels for everyday consumer goods like shampoo or tinned tomatoes with their product details printed in Braille, allowing Americans with visual impairments to have access to the same information as the rest of the population.

According to Ozkan, distributors of consumer items have so far been reluctant to include extra information in Braille on their product labels, due to the extra costs involved and the dynamics of the U.S market. 3D printed techniques have been investigated as a way to produce these labels, but up until now the standard polymers used in the manufacturing process have been unreliable. Ozkan's team has pioneered a new method which allows for the printing of more durable labels that will adhere to packaging in a much more reliable way.

The project builds on the work of a graduate student at the university, Yasushi Mizuno, who previously created a "non-contact sensor technology." This software generated a virtual surface, allowing the ideal processing parameters for the 3D printing operation to be determined, based on detection of things like surface curvature and height differences between the product and its label. Subsequent 3D printed labels, making use of this technology, were a much better fit for their product. 

Ozkan’s team went on to develop their own portable 3D printer that was specifically designed for this task of making Braille labels. The software that the 3D printer runs on is able to generate the Braille characters, according to a user-determined font size, and print them on labels, a procedure which existing 3D printing technology struggles to carry out successfully.

The students' technology drastically reduces the level of expertise required to make use of 3D printing in this way, and Ozkan hopes that this breakthrough will go on to benefit the wider visually impaired community in other ways. ‘'What we are thinking," he says, '‘is that if we combine this technology with a portable 3D printer, this can be taken to schools, nursing homes and public libraries where the blind and visually impaired members of our society have access to other services."

Ozkan and his team are also working on another project that will hopefully bring about positive changes in the consumer goods industry. They have come up with a new method of indicating the expiration dates of items, one that will be accessible to everyone, visually impaired or otherwise. It involves using a special type of polymer, encased in gel, for the product’s packaging. Both the color and permeability of the polymer will change over time, so the visually impaired will be able to determine the remaining shelf life of an item by touch, while other consumers will be able to judge by sight.

Ozkan hopes to eventually introduce his team’s work to regulatory bodies in charge of Braille standardization and public health, raising awareness of accessibility issues and pointing the way forward for better integration of visually impaired consumers into the marketplace.

Ozkan praised the students at Texas A&M University for their contributions: "Our students seem to be very much aware and interested in these kinds of technologies which will assist all those who need it," he says, reserving special praise for the undergraduate students. "With any kind of product development or innovation, it is always the case that when you start learning things and get more experience, you kind of become rigid in terms of what you can and cannot do," the professor adds. "Young minds don't have these restrictions, and in many cases not knowing anything about the rules is exactly what you need for great innovation."

This combination of fresh perspectives and a desire to help the community certainly promises a brighter future for people with disabilities and for consumers in general, with 3D printing technology once again showing the way forward.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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