Jul 27, 2017 | By Tess

Entertainment giant Disney has been at the forefront of research for 3D printing and soft robotics, which is hardly surprising when you consider that it is one of the largest and most powerful media companies in the world. Through its Disney Research network, the company has driven forward 3D printing-related research significantly, filing patents for a support-free resin 3D printing method, an anti-scanning material to protect its toys, and working towards creating 3D printed soft robots for its theme parks.

At the upcoming SIGGRAPH 2017 computer graphics and interactive techniques conference in Los Angeles, Disney researchers will presents their latest achievement: a computational design tool that enables the 3D printing of compliant mechanisms—or flexible, bendable mechanisms.

The method, developed by Bernhard Thomaszewski, a former Disney Research scientist and a professor at the University of Montreal, and Disney scientist Moritz Bacher, is capable of automatically transforming a design for a “conventional, rigidly articulated device” into a flexible mechanism which fulfills the same function.

"Compliant mechanisms enjoy widespread use in industry - ranging from miniature actuators in microelectromechanical systems to the binder clips, backpack latches and shampoo lids common in everyday life," Thomaszewski explained. ”Even broader use in machines is attractive because of their precision and because they can be readily manufactured.”

"Unfortunately, designing for flexibility is more difficult than for rigidity because it demands a deeper understanding of how materials behave as their shape changes," added Bacher. The research team has reportedly demonstrated its computational design tool by 3D printing a range of different mechanisms, including a steering mechanism for a toy car, and a multi-join leg mechanism called Jansen’s Linkage.

3D printing, explained Stelian Coros, an assistant professor at Carnegie Mellon University, is the best method for manufacturing the compliant mechanisms designed through the Disney tool, as it allows for the creation of parts with complex geometries and can use flexible and rigid materials.

The main idea behind the project is to create mechanisms and machines that more closely match the movements and mechanisms found in nature. As Markus Gross, vice president at Disney Research, explained: “Rigidity is a concept foreign to the living world. From a kangaroo's legs to the wings of a bat, bones, tendons and cartilage are the nuts and bolts of organic machines. Our research team has developed a tool that will make it easier for us to eventually make our machines as efficient and robust as those we find in nature.”

The researchers say their novel method works by effectively replacing conventional joint and linkages with their compliant counterparts (the only joints that cannot be transformed compliantly are hinge joints that rotate more than 360 degrees). The design tool can then optimize the device’s performance and function by adjusting its design, lateral stability, and by reducing strains on the component.

The research will soon be presented at SIGGRAPH 2017, which launches on July 30th in L.A. You can watch a detailed video about the innovative process below:

 

 

Posted in 3D Printing Application

 

 

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