Over the past few years, 3D printing has become increasingly common, with companies turning to the technology as an effective way to manufacture products.
Disney has started experimenting with the technology and has created a printer that can print soft, flexible products, kind of like stuffed animals.
"We present a new type of 3D printer that can form precise, but soft and deformable 3D objects from layers of off-the-shelf fabric. Our printer employs an approach where a sheet of fabric forms each layer of a 3D object," said Disney Research in a blog post. "The printer cuts this sheet along the 2D contour of the layer using a laser cutter and then bonds it to previously printed layers using a heat sensitive adhesive."
The printer works essentially the same way as a normal 3D printer, however, it is able to use fabric instead of plastic or metals. While most 3D printers are designed to "print" materials onto specific points because of the fact that this printer uses fabric, it has to use an alternate technique, imitating sewing and layering of fabrics.
The fabrics are placed on top of each other, layer by layer, and are trimmed by a laser cutter, then stuck to the layer below using heated glue. When the product is finished, it basically just looks like a cube, and the extra fabric can then be peeled away to reveal a detailed object inside. Researchers were able to use the technology to create a starfish toy that also functioned as a computer touch sensor, and even a smartphone case that was NFC-capable.
The new technology could have a number of important uses, and because it can be used with conductive materials, it could be used in the development and manufacture of the next generation of computer peripherals.
3D printing itself is still in its infancy, but researchers and scientists have been able to create 3D printers that are able to print a range of products, including ones that are edible. 3D printing enthusiasts are able to often find schematics for items online, and schematics have even been posted for a watch that looks like an Apple II computer.
In addition to simply printing toys and decorations, 3D printing has huge potential and is being used in places like space stations and in other situations where a missing piece could mean life or death. 3D printing technology also allows for extremely complex items that would otherwise be impossible to create to be created.