Sunday, August 5, 2012

Students build 3D printer that fits into a briefcase

Technology is getting smarter by the day, and some gadgets are on their way to becoming more and more portable. Two students, Ilan Moyer and Nadya Peek, from the MIT CADLab and MIT Center for Bits and Atoms respectively have built a 3D printer that can fit into a briefcase. They claim PopFab, the 3D printer, has traveled the world "as a carry-on item of luggage" to Saudi Arabia and Germany, and within the USA to Aspen in Colorado.

In a video of their portable 3D printer, wherein the students introduce the PopFab, it is described as a multi-tool for the 21st century. The video says, "At its heart is a computer-controlled motion platform and a means of attaching various toolheads. These enable PopFab to make objects from a digital plan in a variety of ways: current capabilities include 3D printing (as you are about to see), milling, vinyl cutting, and drawing -- with more on the way."

The video shows the two students setting up PopFab part by part. The detachable parts of the printer play a key role in imparting it portability. A laptop connected to this set-up gives it design instructions, and as can be seen in the video, the printer gets down to emulating the fish design. The various toolheads attached to the printer perform functions such as vinyl cutting and milling that are required to make the 3D object.

Recently, we tried our hands on the world’s only multi-material 3D printer, the Objet Connex series. Based on the different tray sizes, the Objet Connex series is classified into the Connex260, 350 and the Connex500. We had a brief hands-on with the Connex350. Apart from the top of the line Connex series, Objet has recently introduced its new line of affordable 3D printers from the Desktop and the Eden family in the Indian market. The main difference between the Connex series and these models is that the Connex series allows multiple material printing. The Desktop and Eden family are targeted towards individual designers, engineers and SMBs.

The Connex350 is one massive jumbo jet printer with equally jumbo capabilities. It uses PolyJet printing technology to conjure up 3D objects from virtually nothing, well almost. The printer utilizes model and support materials to print 3D prototype objects. Just as InkJet printers today utilize a combination of three primary colours – RGB – to create a vast spectrum of colours, the Connex350 uses its model and support materials to create over 60 materials, including up to 51 Digital Materials.

The video introducing PopFab can be viewed here.

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