3D Printers we know currently have the ability to print in a variety of materials but all of them have one limitation. All of them print only one material at a time. Well, things are about to change, as MIT has build a 3D printer dubbed “MultiFab”, which uses 10 materials simultaneously.
The MultiFab printer has been developed by researchers at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL). The printer has the ability to print 10 materials at a time using 3D scanning techniques, a multi-material printing platform and some cool software algorithms.
The MultiFab printer delivers resolution at 40 microns, which in itself is an amazing feat. The printers offers a couple of key advantages, the first being the ability to self correct and calibrate. The printer scans and detects errors and then corrects them. Secondly, the printers brings the ability to embed complex materials to produce products with even moving parts.
The researchers have already used the 3D printer to produce smartphone cases to even light emitting diode lenses. They see various applications of the device in “consumer electronics, microsensing, medical imaging, and telecommunications, among other things.”
The cool thing is the researchers build the MultiFab printer using off the shelf components and it cost them aroudn $7,000. The ability to print 10 materials at a time was certainly a challenge because of the fact that every different material has its own pressure and temperatures, thus producing such a complex product usually involves printing each component one by one. But in the case of the MultiFab 3D printer, it “mixes microscopic droplets of photopolymers together that are then sent through inkjet printheads similar to those in office printers. The computationally intensive process, which involves crunching dozens of gigabytes of visual data, can be much more easily scaled to larger objects and multiple materials.”
According to Javier Ramos, a reasearch engineer at CSAIL who worked on the printer, “The platform opens up new possibilities for manufacturing, giving researchers and hobbyists alike the power to create objects that have previously been difficult or even impossible to print.”
“Picture someone who sells electric wine openers, but doesn’t have $7,000 to buy a printer like this. In the future, they could walk into a FedEx with a design and print out batches of their finished product at a reasonable price,” “For me, a practical use like that would be the ultimate dream,” he added.
The current industrial 3D printers cost somewhere around $50,000-$250,000 range, while the MIT assumed the MultiFab printer will retail at less than $20,000. Even though the prototype cost around $7,000, thanks to the shelved components used but the researchers believe the cost should go up when they start producing it for the consumer market. While MIT hasn’t revealed a time frame, as to when the 3D printer might arrive in the consumer market but right now, we are just content to see this technological hurdle being passed.