A group at the Hasso-Plattner Institute in Germany explored a curious idea: using 3D printed material not just as a material – but as a machine in itself. What does this mean? The clearest example is the one-piece door handle and latch, 3D printed on an Ultimaker 2 with pink Ninjaflex. It is fully functional but has no moving parts (besides itself) and has no assemblies. In other words, the material itself is also the mechanism.
The video (embedded below) showcases some similar concept pieces: door hinges, a pair of pliers, a pair of walker legs, and a pantograph round out the bunch. Clearly the objects aren’t designed with durability or practicality in mind – the “pliers” in particular seem a little absurd – but they do demonstrate different takes on the idea of using a one-piece item’s material properties as a functional machine in itself.
Other unusual experiments we’ve seen in 3D printing include 3D printed compressed air tanks, or pneumatic muscles instead of motors for small robots. Exploring new directions doesn’t always require bleeding-edge hardware. 3D printing is a natural fit for these experiments because creating any of these things by hand would be a whole lot of work, but to a 3D printer they are almost trivially simple.