MIT CSAIL scientists have developed a new system called LaserFactory that prints fully-functional devices such as drones and robots without human intervention.
The novel ‘single’ system uses a three-ingredient recipe that lets its users create structural geometry, print traces, and assemble electronic components like sensors and actuators.
There has been a lot of advances in 3D printing and so too the variety of products it now churns out. But it still lacks the ability to fabricate more complex devices that are essentially ready-to-go right out of the printer.
The LaserFactory has two parts working in harmony: a software toolkit that allows users to design custom devices, and a hardware platform that fabricates them.
“Making fabrication inexpensive, fast, and accessible to a layman remains a challenge,” says lead author and PhD student Martin Nisser.
“By leveraging widely available manufacturing platforms like 3D printers and laser cutters, LaserFactory is the first system that integrates these capabilities and automates the full pipeline for making functional devices in one system.”
Unlike the old lengthy process where one had to first design their device by placing components on it from a parts library, drawing on circuit traces, and finalizing the geometry in the 2D editor, LaserFactory does this all in one go.
The commands are embedded into a single fabrication file and this is aided by the standard laser cutter software.
On the hardware side, an add-on that prints circuit traces and assembles components is clipped onto the laser cutter.
Similar to a chef, LaserFactory automatically cuts the geometry, dispenses silver for circuit traces, picks and places components, and finally cures the silver to make the traces conductive, securing the components in place to complete fabrication.
The device is then fully functional, and in the case of the drone, it can immediately take off to begin a task – a feature that could in theory be used for diverse jobs such as delivery or search-and-rescue operations.
Image and content: Martin Nisser et al/MIT CSAIL