By now, most of the world is convinced that 3D printing and rapid prototyping can produce almost anything. Industries such as aerospace, medical and automotive are astounding the world with what they can do to test the limits of the technology. Researchers are developing new methods, inks and printers that are making the impossible possible for these industries. Educators are realizing the importance of teaching 3D printing to the newer generations as a vessel to unleash creativity and eliminate the boundaries of creation. Hence, slowly yet surely, researchers are pretty much eliminating the limitation of 3D printers in regards to how we print, what we print and for what purpose we print these 3D structures.
Overcoming Software Limitations: Innovation at MIT Media Lab Till now it has been believed that printing of objects with fine features and dense bodies are off limits. This was due to the simple fact that the CAD or computer aided design files required for the purpose would be of enormous file size, hence they would take hours to be computed. As a solution to this problem, new software has been designed by a research team at MIT Media Lab that can make things easier. Cilllia, said software produced to make patterned printing easy, puts to use sliders so that users can create 3D printed surfaces covered in innumerable hairs. The resolution of each hair is fifty microns, which is about the width of a typical human hair. Unlike traditional CAD files where users have had to go through the painstaking process of drawing each hair individually, Cilllia brings down the time for the entire process to about a couple of minutes.
The first author of the project MIT graduate student Jifei Ou states that printing hair is challenging not because of the hardware, rather the software side is trickier to accomplish. Ou is a grad student in media arts and sciences, MIT. Allowing a real time visual representation, Cilllia makes use of sliders that enable quick changes in the hair structure parameters. The many adjustable features include profile, thickness, angle, height as well as the number of hairs on a surface. One can even use the software to produce spiral curled hair patterns.
The program’s results can easily be implemented in order to create brush structures of various types by using stereolithography technique of 3D printing. The research team developed Velcro like pads that can stick to each other, paintbrushes, hair based actuation and even a toy rabbit that can emits green light whenever it is stroked. According to Canalys, the industry is going to be worth just over twenty billion US dollars by 2019 due to this latest technique of 3D printing. The research team presented a paper at the CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems held in May, of the Association for Computing Machinery. The paper stated that this ability of fabrication of customized hair like structures not only enriches the 3D printable shape library, but also allows the team to design alternative sensors and actuators.
The paper concluded that these 3D printed hairs can be employed in designing interactive objects that we use in our everyday life. ‘Furbication’: Research at Carnegie Mellon University Most 3D printed objects tend to be made of hard plastic; hence they are not exactly very soft or cuddly. However, a team of researchers have come up with systems that can print soft troll heads with brushable hair, wizards with lush long beards and model horses whose tails can be braided. The team from Carnegie Mellon University, the concept of 3D printing of hair was inspired by the tiny strands that are obtained when a hot glue gun is pulled away from melted plastic pieces. With the same principle, the team is using a 3D printer to print brushable hair.
According to Ph.D student Gierad Laput from Carnegie Mellon Human-Computer Interaction Institute, a little bit of material is squirted out and pulled away, resulting in hair structure. Laput and his research team colleagues lovingly address this method as ‘furbication’. Their hair printing method does not require any special hardware to accomplish the task, rather a set of parameters are changed that can be added to a 3D print job. Carnegie Mellon noted that the printer used for these experiments cost just about $300. Each hair strand is made by giving the printer instructions to create a small blob of melted plastic, then pulling the print bed and print head off to the side. This draws the plastic out into thin filaments. The finished product is fully fledged, braid able hair! The hair can be brushed, braided, trimmed or even curled. It is very much possible for the printer to churn out an entire wig for a human head; however the process is rather slow. It requires about half an hour to print plastic hair for a ten square millimeter size of area.
In the recent years, the world of 3D printing has considerably expanded. 3D printed fabric objects have been developed by Disney Research; using this method many soft toys like teddys bear can be printed. 3D printed prosthesis has been used to repair the beak of an injured toucan recently. For the makers and industry enthusiasts, the ability to print hair onto plastic made objects open up new opportunities to be even more creative with their 3D models.
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