3-D printing has become the rallying cause for a rising generation of designers, engineers, and architects. There seems to be few limits to what the technology can do or what range of products it can spawn, from lampshades to lunar bases. Amid all the hype, however, it’s easy to neglect one key factor: Printing capabilities are directly wedded to the size of one’s printer. As home printers become more readily available, the size of their printing beds shrink. Any budding designer with a desktop 3-D printer can create an intricate scale model of the Millennium Falcon, but what about something as straightforward yet functional as a chair? It simply won’t fit inside the printing box.
MIT-based researchers and instructors Marcelo Coelho and Skylar Tibbits teamed up to tackle this very problem. Working under a grant from Ars Electronica, the pair conceived of a whole new way to do 3-D printing. Hyperform is a new strategy for designing and printing large objects irrespective of a printer’s bed size. So not only can you print out that chair at home, you can also print a table, bed frame, and everything else you need to furnish a bedroom.
The solution is breathtakingly simple. By merely folding the object you want to print, you can jig it to fit into a small-scale printer. In Tibbits and Coelho’s project, the object is rendered in 1-D–a line–and endlessly folded into a space-filling curve proportioned to the printer’s cubic dimensions. (The designers partnered with Formlabs and iterated the process using a Form 1 tabletop printer.) When the object is exhumed from the printer bed, it doesn’t at all resemble its final shape. Rather, it’s a dense cluster of thin but sturdy polymer links packaged in a three-dimensional puzzle that can be intuitively assembled.
The chains are programmed with multidirectional notches, so that they can be latched together at right angles. Assembly is quick because each chain can only bend in the way it’s designed to, thus removing a large obstacle that plagues most 3-D-printing ventures. The final product, then, will look exactly as it does on your computer screen but will be structurally sound enough to stand on its own in physical space. In the process, Tibbits suggests, scale becomes virtually, if not entirely, irrelevant. (In one test, the cohorts printed a 50-foot-long chain that they proceed to hang from the roof of a laboratory building.)
“It kinda grew up out of the idea that if you wanted to take something that was very large and wanted to compress it down into a very small bed size, how do you displace that density,” he explains. The problem of displacing, or as Coelho later elaborates, “transforming” density is integral to understanding how Hyperform works and what it’s great potential really means….
Every Thursday is #3dthursday here at Adafruit! The DIY 3D printing community has passion and dedication for making solid objects from digital models. Recently, we have noticed electronics projects integrated with 3D printed enclosures, brackets, and sculptures, so each Thursday we celebrate and highlight these bold pioneers!
Have you considered building a 3D project around an Arduino or other microcontroller? How about printing a bracket to mount your Raspberry Pi to the back of your HD monitor? And don’t forget the countless LED projects that are possible when you are modeling your projects in 3D!
The Adafruit Learning System has dozens of great tools to get you well on your way to creating incredible works of engineering, interactive art, and design with your 3D printer! If you’ve made a cool project that combines 3D printing and electronics, be sure to let us know, and we’ll feature it here!
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