MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) has created a ‘breakthrough’ 3D printer that can print  up to ten different materials simultaneously at a resolution of “at least 40 µm”.

Impressive enough as that is on its own, the team has also announced that the hardware used to create the printer cost less than $7 000 (R93 000). That may look a bit expensive (especially considering the recent turmoil the Rand’s experienced), but this is small change when one considers that one of the few retail, multi-material 3D printers (the  Stratasys Objet Connex) costs around $250 000 ($3.3 million).

CSAIL has also posted up a few examples of what the printer is capable of creating:

mit-3d-printer

We’re a little taken aback by what we see here. We just got back from Maker Faire Cape Town 2015 and were thoroughly impressed by 3D printed metal and rubber objects, but the thought of a lens or fibre optic cable popping out of a printer is quite mind-blowing.

Another feature of this new technology is its ability to print on top of an existing object. One of the items above is a set of LEDs that have a lens printed directly on top of them. This was accomplished through what the team are calling “machine vision”: the ability to quickly calibrate the printer using a camera over the printing area. The team say that this system makes the printing far more reliable and there are very little failed prints.

The ultimate goal of the project is to 3D print objects that are fully functional right out of the printer, instead of prototypes and tests, which is what 3D printing is king of right now.

So, what’s the catch? Well, CSAIL say the great resolution is achieved at the cost of a very long print cycle, and their scanning systems need some work to capture reflective and highly angular surfaces. Despite that, this is a huge step forwards and we’re hopeful that this will, in the very least, open the gates to new multifab printers and lower the price of existing ones.

If you want to know more, have a read of MIT’s open access research paper on 3D printing.

[Source – MIT]