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Published on November 17, 2023
MIT & ETH Zurich Revolutionize 3D Printing with Computer Vision-Driven SystemSource: Unsplash/ Xiaole Tao

A collaborative research effort involving MIT, MIT spinout Inkbit, and ETH Zurich has culminated in a significant advancement in 3D inkjet printing technology. Their invention of a self-monitoring, computer vision-driven system was reported by MIT News on Wednesday. This contactless mechanism accelerates production times and enhances 3D printing versatility, with successful applications witnessing the production of complex robotic devices, including a fully functional 3D-printed hand-like gripper.

In contrast to traditional 3D inkjet printing systems', the novel method crafted is capable of utilizing a wider array of materials, revolutionizing the commonly used smoothing process. According to Wojciech Matusik, a professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at MIT and co-corresponding author of the study, equipping the 3D printers with "a set of eyes and a brain" has enabled real-time adjustments in the printing process as released by MIT News.

Thus, a breakthrough by itself, the technology enables non-stop printing that is up to 660 times faster than previous technologies. The printer's capability for automatic self-correction catapults versatility in creations and functionality, moving away from the necessity of mechanical smoothing.

Owing to the printer's compatibility with a wider range of materials, researchers have added slow-curing thiol-based materials to the 3D printing roster. This category of material not only possesses substantial elasticity and durability but also demonstrates resistance against sunlight degradation and is thermally sustainable across varied temperature ranges, said Robert Katzschmann, an assistant professor of robotics at ETH Zurich.

Having capitalized on the combined applications of thiol-based materials and wax, the researchers' achievements encompass the production of a complex, fully-functional tendon-driven robotic hand. The team also unveiled a six-legged robot with sensing and object-grasping capabilities, as detailed by Thomas Buchner, a doctoral student at ETH Zurich and the study's leading author.

The team's accomplishments in device fabrication are not limited to the creations mentioned above. In addition to programmed metamaterials, the 3D inkjet printing system has also contributed to the creation of a heart-like pump inclusive of integrated ventricles and artificial heart valves. Matusik notes that these applications only scratch the surface of the wider potential offered by this technological breakthrough.

Moving forward, technological innovation shows promise for enriching varied fields. Potential use cases envision the utilization of hydrogels for tissue engineering applications, the specialization of durable polymers, silicon materials, and epoxies, as well as contributions to the production of customizable medical devices, semiconductor polishing pads, and more intricate robots.

The development of the 3D inkjet printing system was made possible through substantial support from various organizations, ranging from Credit Suisse to the U.S. National Science Foundation. With this advanced technology in hand and the myriad of potential applications it harbors, the future of 3D printing is set to encompass novel strides in terms of both scope and innovation.

Boston-Science, Tech & Medicine