Disney Uses 3D Knitting Tech


An apparently non-scientific, strictly business oriented company at first glance, there is more to Disney than what meets the eyes. When it comes to 3D printing innovations, Disney Research has been actively making an effort and churning out amazing new 3D patents. Their innovations include high resolution 3D printing processes, state of the art rapid prototyping, and replication of reflective properties on 3D printed surface and even wall climbing robots made with 3D printing- it seems that Disney as a company has been looking to revolutionize how their movie merchandise is manufactured using rapid prototyping and 3D printing technology. However, their latest discovery is proof that they are also eager to bring the principles of rapid prototyping into other industries. For that, they have in fact developed a new 3D printer compiler that allows knitting and sewing machines to behave just like a 3D printer would do. This helps amazing customization of objects.

Even though sewing and knitting machines have been around for a while now, there has been no work on them to make them behave like 3D printing or rapid prototyping devices. Even though industrial knitting units can produce very seamless, detailed and three dimensional surfaces fairly quick. However, they can be very much impossible to be programmed for very small batches that require a lot of customization. To solve this problem, the Disney Research associates Lea Albaugh, April Grow, Vidya Narayanan, Jim McCann, Jessica Hodgins and Jen Mankoff; along with Wojciech Matusik from MIT have developed a compiler for 3D machine knitting.

According to the research team from Disney, the principles of manufacturing are changing steadily by dint of the advent of digitally controlled rapid prototyping, 3D printing and CNC milling breakthroughs. The team believes that rapid prototyping and 3D printing should be joined by 3D machine knitting technology so that they can create end user friendly and accessible additive fabrication. Getting to these results will require new data exchange formats, algorithms, tools and methods. In short, their compiler can now bring 3D printing to industrial sewing machines. This is done by means of a transfer planning algorithm that can change commands into basic knitting steps. Hence, users can complete different knitted objects much faster and easier.

Till now, only CAD software could be used for rapid prototyping, 3D printing or even designing new stuffed animals or clothes. However, there is no print button for industrially suitable sewing machines. The industrial standard tools for knitting create high quality templates for only a few sample objects; otherwise the user is left alone to control what happens at the needle level. This fails to separate actual fabrication from machine level details. The researchers also add that customizing the designs is a lot like writing code by hand for every single print. This is the reason why the world of rapid prototyping and 3D printing has been so far away from knitting.

The Disney research team in order to change this trend has developed their compiler that works simply by getting users to add in input- which too is high level shape primitives. As opposed to detailed descriptions, the shape primitives are sewable by construction, i.e., they can be transformed automatically into stitching level instructions. With the provided primitives, users can edit and create designs at high level, change order of knitting, location of needle, scale and shape. Their input format also provides for efficient scheduling of knitting location and order. However, this process needs a little more effort than just letting the machine read codes. The sewing machines have hundreds or hooks or needles that can perform four basic function, by dint of a knitting assembly language. The algorithm hence had to coordinate these steps into a single one, at the same time it dealt with other problems of knitting that might arise. The researchers say that any loop that was not pulled through another could unravel and cause the final product to be destroyed.

However, there happens to be one design advantage in this rapid prototyping style technology. The objects that are most commonly knitted such as soft toys, socks, gloves and sweaters happen to be made up of more than sheets and tubes, yet with varying levels of bend. Hence, the compiler needs only to read the sheets and tube primitives, converting them into sewing instructions later on. The compiler then breaks the information into courses or horizontal slices. Each of these courses contains a knitting time value which is a list in anticlockwise order of needles to form loops, a parameter for each needle etc. that are used in linking.

So far, this rapid prototyping inspired technology has been faring very well in the Disney labs. They have already knitted various unique shapes for toys. The Disney team has already announced that they are planning to add texture options as well. So keep your eyes peeled for some new 3D printed & knitted furry creatures in the near future!





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