Apr 27, 2018 | By David

Massachusetts-based design studio Nervous System has recently made use of 3D printing technology to explore the possibility of creating self-forming structures by printing on stretched fabric. The basic idea behind the project was to make pieces of fabrics form into specific 3D shapes, by printing different patterns of plastic on to them while they were stretched. This printed plastic inhibits the contraction of the surface, guiding the stretched fabric to take its desired shape when it is released.

Nervous System has been working at the intersection of science, art and technology since it was founded back in 2007, by MIT grads Jessica Rosenkrantz and Jesse Louis-Rosenberg. The studio creates unique and affordable products by using a novel process that employs computer simulation of natural phenomena to generate designs, and then digital fabrication techniques like 3D printing to realize them.

This latest self-forming fabric structure project was carried out primarily by Nervous System intern Gabe Fields. His project is similar to the studio’s earlier Floraform 3D printing project, which digitally developed a set of remarkable flower-like structures. Also, the idea of designing a 3D printed object in such a way that it will transform into the desired shape in a final stage after printing, by "programming" this final transformation into the structure, is the basic principle behind what has sometimes been referred to as 4D printing.

This 3D printed fabric experiment started out by printing a 0.3 millimeter-thick pattern on top of the extra-flexible fabric, which was stretched out on the print bed. Once the stretchy fabric is released from tension, any areas covered by 3D printed material will be unable to contract, but all other areas of the fabric will be drawn together. The fact that some regions are capable of shrinking more than others causes the fabric to curve in three dimensions, in order to find the most stable shape. The transformation is a result of the fabric’s elasticity conflicting with the rigidity of the plastic, until the opposing forces reach equilibrium.

The system made use of the Boundary-First Flattening algorithm, which takes a digital 3D model and flattens it out into two dimensions. This is done by shrinking some areas and expanding others, effectively unstretching and unrolling the 3D model. Both the 3D and 2D versions of the shape were then put into an openFrameworks program, which was used to compute the amount of shrinkage experienced by each part of the model. The Nervous System project basically worked back from this flattened 2D shape, reversing the shrinkage in each area, in order to find the shape that needed to be printed to achieve the desired final transformation back into the original 3D model. The openFrameworks program creates a non-uniform hexagonal layout that can render this shape effectively.

(source: Nervous System)

Fields and the team were able to create an impressive human face shape using the technique, with a mouth, nose and eye sockets. They printed the plastic on a Ultimaker 2 FDM machine. They also experimented with creating some other shapes, including an egg, a saddle shape, and jellyfish-like shapes with long tendrils.

Fields' work builds on some previous projects that have explored printing on pre-stretched fabric in the past. These include the MIT Self Assembly Lab's 'Programmable Materials' and 'Active Shoes' projects. It suggests a promising future for 3D printing, as the increasing accessibility of the technology means that more and more designers are capable of exploring it in creative ways.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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