3D printing materials are no longer limited to ABS or PLA, as researchers are continuously looking to increase the number of options. The latest invention comes from Disney Research in the form of soft fabric that can be 3D printed in layers.
Disney Research seems to be focusing on the oddest things possible, some of the topics of interest including colorful swarms of Pixelbots or 3D printed human hair. Their latest addition to a long line of peculiar inventions is a 3D printer that relies on soft fabric and adhesive to create fluffy objects. That’s definitely a different take on 3D printing, a field where the majority of the resulting objects were rock hard.
The researchers behind the layered fabric 3D printer are aware that this is not the industry’s first attempt to create flexible objects using this process of manufacture. However, their unusual approach will not go unnoticed, as there are quite a few applications.
Using fabric lead to some significant changes in the 3D printing process, as there is some laser cutting involved. Even though it may seem that there are just sheets of fabric layered one on top of another, each of these layers is cut in 2D so that its perimeter matches the external area of the 3D object. The resulting block of fabric includes the object, as well as the support material, which can be easily peeled away.
Disney Research also exemplified in the above video how long cuts in the fabric layers could be used for reinforcing an object, conditioning its flexibility by changing the bending direction.
Obviously, one of the main applications for this new 3D printing method is the creation of toys for toddlers, as they are not old enough to play with plastic toys. I’m not yet sure how the conductive fabric showcased in the above video could be put to some good use, but that remains to be seen in the future.
We have to keep in mind that this 3D printer is currently just a prototype, and that the items that were printed so far can’t match the energy levels, nor the determination of a toddler. In conclusion, Disney Research might have to spend some additional time on perfecting this 3D printing method.