A printer developed by a lab team at MIT has the ability to print materials that have up until now been more or less, well, unprintable.

In a press release posted on MIT's website, the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) announced the MultiFab 3-D printer, which can produce anything from smartphone cases to diode lenses, and could open up a world of 3D-printed electronic products.

In a video produced by CSAIL, research engineer Javier Ramos, who also co-authored a paper about the MultiFab accepted for presentation for the SIGGRAPH computer graphics conference, elucidated how the MultiFab diverges from regular 3D printing, and what it could mean for the future of manufacturing:

"The state of 3D printing goes two ways: there's people who are developing machines that can print with materials that we currently use through traditional manufacturing processes, and there's people developing platforms based on multiple materials. This [latter one] will enable a broad range of new applications by being able to manufacture products that we were not able to manufacture through traditional techniques.

"We've developed a low-cost multi-material 3D printing platform that can print up to ten materials and is machine vision-enabled. We use machine vision techniques to enhance or amplify the capabilities of current multi-material printing technology."

The machine is made up of four general but integral parts: a 3D scanning module, a UV module, a feeding module and a printhead module.

The MultiFab relies on its unique 3D scanning abilities via the aforementioned "machine vision." While most 3D printers use this self-same technique, the MultiFab can tweak itself for even the smallest minutiae, making it a self-correcting device.

According to the press statement, "[for each] layer of the design, the system's feedback loop 3D scans and detects errors and then generates so-called 'correction masks.' This approach allows the use of inexpensive hardware while ensuring print accuracy."

Another component that sets the MultiFab apart from its typical 3D printer peers is that components such as circuits and sensors – multiplexed and complicated in their own right – can be attached via the printer itself, making any project a one-legged trip.

"The platform opens up new possibilities for manufacturing, giving researchers and hobbyists alike the power to create objects that have previously been difficult or even impossible to print," Ramos added in the press statement.

Check out the MultiFab in action in the video below.


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