Wednesday, May 29th, 2013

Already Ultra-Trendy, 3D Printing of Plastics Now Goes Airborne

Until now, 3D printing of objects, most often using plastic materials, has taken place largely on a flat surface inside a closed chamber, with material added layer by layer and fused to create a solid object, all driven by a computer design file. But now a team of students at the Institute for Advanced Architecture of Catalonia (IAAC) in Barcelona, Spain has taken 3D printing (additive manufacturing) ’outside the box’ — literally.

Anti-Gravity Object modeling is a departure from current 3D printing technology.

Anti-Gravity Object modeling is a departure from current 3D printing technology.

Petr Novikov and Saša Jokić of the IAAC created Mataerial, a new additive manufacturing process that prints plastic as a rod that sticks to horizontal, vertical, smooth or irregular surfaces and can be extended without the need for additional support structures.

The two students designed the equipment to carry out the Mataerial process during their internship at the Joris Laarman Lab in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. They equipped a multi-axis industrial robot with a nozzle that extrudes the 3D plastic rods. A computer design file dictates the shape and direction of the rods, just as with a flatbed 3D printer.

A key innovation with respect to current 3D printers is that “Anti-Gravity Object Modeling,” as the designers call it, uses two-component thermosetting polymer rather than the thermoplastic polymer used in flat 3D printers.

Thermoplastic materials enter a mold or extrusion die hot and harden as they cool. Conversely, thermoset materials solidify as they are heated. In this case, the chemical reaction between two unidentified components causes the material to solidify as it exits the nozzle, creating rods solid enough to form unsupported hanging curves.

The video below shows the process in operation. Extrusion speed for this process depends on factors including the material and the thickness of the extruded rod. In the video, the extrusion rate was about a meter in three minutes, however the video is played at 3X actual speed to show the process more quickly.

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