Just when you think you’ve seen it all… [Fergal Coulter] over on the RepRap forums just came up with a method of 3D printing on inflatable structures — wait what?
The process uses a custom 3D printer with a paste extrusion head, and a 4th axis — with a pneumatic air supply. Using a spray deposition method, a silicone tube is formed, and then each layer is cured using a infrared light, which is also built into the system. Once the silicone is thick enough, it is then pressurized to inflate through the air-permeable mandrel. A laser then scans the shape of the inflated silicone to allow the computer to generate tool paths for the surface. Then you hit print. Simple right?
We’re not even sure how to begin explaining how he came up with this. Basically, this method of 3D printing allows for the manufacture of some very unique flexible components, perhaps the most interesting application is “Dielectric Elastomer Artificial Muscles” which is a really advanced form of pneumatic artificial muscles (which you can make from hardware store parts too). It would also make building a soft robot much easier than casting the silicone muscles by hand like we saw last week.
It’s a fascinating new direction for 3D printing and we’re excited to see the technology continue to advance. There’s more information available on [Fergal’s] main website.
[Thanks for the tip Matt!]