July 14, 2014

Braille is a tactile writing system which has greatly helped the visually impaired and partially sighted individuals. But only a tiny proportion of books published is available in braille. Thanks to 3D printing and 3D thermal reflow treatment, braille books, braille picture books and teaching materials can be produced as touchable objects with color and detailed lines and curves.

Presently, materials available for the visually impaired and partially sighted are mostly braille documents or books with a series of raised dots on paper. For basic objects such as apple, tree, etc., raised dots that outline the object was used in picture books. But information on subways or public buildings are sometimes difficult to understand, and making complex books on contours of maps, earthquake occurrence, and such educational materials in braille was very difficult.

The research team led by Dr Myoung-Woon Moon at the Korea Institute of Science and Technology used 3D printing technology that which prints each filament layer one at a time based on the data of 3D model.

The 3D printed miniature models or prototype of complex 3D objects will add interest and excitement to the current braille books by putting detailed tables and figures into the context, which in turn will make reading much more interesting for the visually impaired or partially sighted individuals.

3D Printed material samples: (a) Emile Bell (The Divine Bell of King Seongduk, National Treasure No. 29; (b) Seokguram Grotto (UNESCO World Heritage, National Treasure No. 24); (c) Mud-guard (National Treasure No. 207); (d) Dolmen. These historical relics were printed based on images in the grade 5th social studies textbook. image credit: KIST

In addition, much more complex structures like the contours of a map representing mountainous areas can be produced in colors that are similar to the real thing. Moreover, the time it took to produce educational materials for the visually impaired or partially sighted, which was several month could be cut down to several hours.

The tactile objects are also harmless to human body since it does not require UV coating or harmful chemical treatment. The research team used the thermal reflow processing for surface treatment. If the surface of the produced object is treated with temperatures of 160°C or higher, the solid filament melts and in this process, the layered surface tension tries to reduce surface energy by filling the structures and flow and reflow occurs makes the surface smoother in the process. Further, while it remelts, the filament gets absorbed into crevices of the board to make it even more adhesive.

This newly developed surface treatment technique not only works for paper but also on plastic, metal, ceramics, and other various materials in controlling the adhesiveness between braille and the surface.

The research team used thermal reflow treatment on the surface to enhance durability and adhesiveness. The newly developed technique has been filed for patent registration domestically.

Dr. Kwang-Ryeol Lee Director-General of the Institute for Multidisciplinary Convergence of Matter at KIST said, "The materials have been developed to enhance the quality of life and learning of the visually impaired and partially sighted students but, it is also expected to be used in other educational fields for general students. We will put our utmost efforts in R&D that enables a happier life and better education for the physically challenged students."


Posted in 3D Printing Applications

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