Featuring an integrated machine vision system, the 3D printer is able to print 10 different materials at once, say the researchers. It achieves this by using 3D-scanning techniques – common in machine vision applications but not in conventional 3D printers – to save time, energy and money.
Developed using off-the-shelf components costing about $7,000, the "Multifab" printer is able to deliver a resolution of at least 40 micrometers and can self calibrate and self correct. A closed feedback loop 3D-scans and detects errors during each layer of the design and then generates "correction masks" to adjust for any detected errors.
The multiple materials that can be printed simultaneously can interact optically and mechanically, allowing the embedding of complex electronic components onto the body of an object. "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." says Javier Ramos, a research engineer at CSAIL.
The researchers claim to have used the printer to print a wide variety of objects – everything from smartphone cases to LED lenses. Further experiments are planned to attempt to embed components such as motors and actuators that would enable 3D-printing of more complex electronics, including robots.
For more, see the paper "MultiFab: A Machine Vision Assisted Platform for Multi-material 3D Printing" (PDF).