Purdue University has developed a new 3D printer system – RevoMaker – that produces functioning products with enclosed electronic and motorized components.
The system could be further used to customize devices such as a computer mouse molded to a user’s hand.
Conventional 3D printers create objects layer-by-layer from the bottom up; this poses a challenge when printing overhanging or protruding features like a figure’s outstretched arms. They must be formed using supporting structures – which are later removed – adding time and material to the process.
In traditional manufacturing, parts have to be assembled along with electronics packaging that goes on the inside. Now for a change, Purdue’s RevoMaker not only reduces the need for supporting structures, but also uses a new technique for multi directional printing.
RevoMaker avoids assembly by printing the structure around the enclosed electronics. Different parts of the object are partitioned digitally and printed around a box that contains electronic and mechanical components.
“With a traditional 3D printer you print on a planar print bed and the platform is fixed,” said Raymond Cipra, a professor of mechanical engineering. “Our strategy is to replace the print bed with a laser-cut cuboid which can be rotated about an axis to provide orthogonal printing surfaces on each side of the volume. This cuboidal volume is also the space into which the electronics, motors, batteries are embedded before the printing process begins. Perhaps you could have multiple cuboids that you snap together in a customizable fashion.”
“Our focus lies in enhancing an existing 3D printer at minimal cost and complexity so that one does not have to use a more complex and expensive multi-axis machine,” said doctoral student Wei Gao. “By just rotating the cuboid and using the printer’s own X, Y, and Z-step control, we add much greater functionality and capability to the process. The process also enables side-surface functionalities, such as push-buttons, that also interact with housed modules in a compact volume.”
According to the university team, the plastic boxes could be shipped as flat templates and then unfolded and assembled in series to create a variety of products.
The new system has already created several items with complex shapes, using different colors to show how the segments are printed separately but in a continuous process as the piece is turned and repositioned.
In one project, a mouse was tailored to a person’s hand by first creating a clay mold and then scanning it into a computer. The mouse was fully functioning out of the printer. Another project of a windup toy featured a spinning tail and glowing LED eyes.
Production time and the amount of material needed were further reduced by as much as 37%, depending on the product.
Video and Image credits: Purdue University image/Wei Gao