Scientists from MIT have achieved a major breakthrough which enables commercial 3D printers to print out solids and liquids simultaneously.
Many consumer 3D printers use Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) technology to build objects from the bottom up. This involves heating thermoplastic filament and extruding the melted material with a nozzle which then hardens on the print bed.
On the other hand, Stereolithography, one of the earliest 3D printing technologies, has much in common with desktop inkjet printers since they use droplets of curable liquid plastic. The polymer is hardened using an ultraviolet laser which eventually forms solid objects with smooth detailed models.
The new technique was created by MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL). The method, called Printable Hydraulics, takes photopolymer 3D printers and adds the capability for liquids to be printed simultaneously and stored in the solid material. This could potentially enable the creation of robots in their entirety using 3D printers.
“We have a 3D printer that can lay out either solids or liquids, and then we have an algorithm that decides when the printer should put down a water droplet or solid droplet. This allows us to create objects that were not possible to create before,” CSAIL director Daniela Rus told IBTimes UK.
“This allows us to 3D print hydraulic mechanisms and incorporate them into the robot. The reason the liquids stay liquid is because they are enclosed in a mechanism of pipes.”
MIT researchers made use of a normal commercial photopolymer 3D printer. After intense research lasting a year, the team figured out how to add liquid created from alcohol to the printer to make combined printing possible.
“When the parts are being printed, they’re being printed layer by layer, in very thin layers. At those kinds of scales, at the height of the layers, the size of the droplets we deposit allows materials that are solids and liquids to sit next to each other on that layer, because of the surface tension of these droplets,” CSAIL post-doctoral associate Robert MacCurdy, who co-wrote the paper, told IBTimes UK.
The researchers envision a future where people can readily use this technology to print single-use disposable robots right at home.
The team has published a paper on the subject entitled ‘Printable Hydraulics: A Method for Fabricating Robots by 3D Co-Printing Solids and Liquids.’ The paper will be presented at the 2016 IEEE International on Robotics and Automation (ICRA) scheduled to take place in May at Stockholm, Sweden.
Excerpts from IB Times. Video and image courtesy of MIT CSAIL