Revolution in 3D Printing: New Materials and Accelerated Speeds Through In-Process Monitoring


Computer vision system speeds up 3D printing [Source: YouTube]

Engineers from MIT and ETH Zurich employ computer vision to tweak material deposition rates in real time.

The enduring dilemma of multimaterial 3D printing is the curing time. In general, a multimaterial 3D print device uses several thousand nozzles to discharge resins. These are subsequently leveled with a scraper or roller prior to being treated with ultraviolet (UV) light. As a consequence, the process is restricted by the rate at which the resins cure, curbing the diversity of materials suitable for 3D printing.

Current engineering teams from MIT, ETH Zurich, and the startup Inkbit have presented a new system. This uses computer vision to oversee the printing process and tweak deposition rates to ensure material consistency across every layer of a construction. The system can engage with materials that tyipcally cure slower than the acrylates largely used in 3D printing as it removes the necessity for leveling or scraping. Examples of such materials include thiol-based compounds, which cure at a slower pace than acrylates, but showcase superior elasticity, are more stable across broader temperature ranges, and withhold degradation when exposed to the sun.

Automatic adjustments in the new system enhance the speed of 3D printing, making it up to 660 times faster than other production-grade systems that slow down for curing time adjustments, as reported by the researchers.

This system comprises four high-frame-rate cameras and two lasers which continuously track the surface being printed. Using computer vision, the system processes these scans into a high-resolution depth map, contrasting it with the CAD model of the item being printed, and brings about necessary adjustments in the deposition rate.

Around the globe, researchers and scientists are optimistic about this technology. According to Robert Katzschmann, an assistant professor of robotics at ETH Zurich, “Almost any object, irrespective of its geometric complexity, can be printed using multiple materials via this technology. The design possibilities it offers are limitless. The output is not just functional but also durable.”

By utilizing this technology, the team has successfully 3D printed intricate robotic devices combining both soft and hard materials. Examples include robotic grippers created in resemblance to the human hand, complete with synthetic bones, ligaments, and tendons.

“Our key insight here was to develop a machine-vision system and completely active feedback loop,” explained Wojciech Matusik, professor of electrical engineering and computer science at MIT. “This is almost like endowing a printer with a set of eyes and a brain, where the eyes observe what is being printed, and then the brain of the machine directs it as to what should be printed next.”

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