Apr 2, 2018 | By David

When we think of advanced, cutting-edge technological developments, knitting is definitely not one of the first things to spring to mind. However, a team of researchers at Carnegie Mellon University recently borrowed ideas from 3D printing technology to bring knitting into the 21st Century. They designed an algorithm that enables digital 3D designs to be converted into specific instructions that can be carried out by an automated knitting machine, effectively a form of 3D printing for fabric and knitted items. The robotics techniques involved are relatively straightforward, and the process could point the way forward for the industry.

We’ve reported previously on the groundbreaking work of Dutch designer Iris van Herpen, just one of a number of figures who have already brought 3D printing techniques into the world of textiles and fashion design. Even a 3D printer for knitwear isn’t an entirely novel idea, with London-based startup Kniterate pioneering an open-source digital knitting process some years ago. This latest innovation from computer scientists at Carnegie Mellon University should prove to be a much more accessible and useful version of the technology, with an algorithm that can be adapted for a range of different knitting machines.

The algorithm is based on the transformation of the kinds of 3D meshes that are used to model 3D shapes into stitching instructions. It was developed with the constraints of particular knitting machines in mind, so that it can adapt to optimize the technology already available. It focuses on creating patterns that will work within the limits of the yarn hoops, hook-shaped needles, and parallel needle beds. It is still relatively limited compared to manual knitting, as the current goal is just to reduce the risk of yarn breaks or jams as much as possible, but as the knitting ecosystem expands and design tools develop, much more could be possible.

According to James McCann, assistant professor in the Robotics Institute and leader of the Carnegie Mellon Textiles Lab, "Knitting machines could become as easy to use as 3-D printers...Now if you run a floor of knitting machines, you also have a department of engineers. It’s not a sustainable way of doing one-off customized pieces.” His technique would allow for much smaller runs of items, as machines could be adapted to create knitting instructions without human input. This makes on-demand machine knitting possible. In future, it might be possible for a customer to choose, and quickly realize, their own unique color patterns for their apparel, glove sizes, designs for new plush toys, and much more.

"The knitting hardware is already really good," McCann explained. "It's the software that needs a little push. And software can improve rapidly because we can iterate so much faster."

The project was carried out by McCann alongside Vidya Narayanan, a Ph.D. student in computer science, Jessica Hodgins, professor of computer science and robotics; Lea Albaugh, a Ph.D. student in the Human-Computer Interaction Institute; and Stelian Coros, a faculty member at ETH Zurich and an adjunct professor of robotics at CMU.  The work will be presented at SIGGRAPH 2018, the Conference on Computer Graphics and Interactive Techniques in Vancouver, Canada.



Posted in Printing Technology



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