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A 3D printer that can print with unknown materials

Researchers at MIT in the US developed a 3D printer that can automatically identify the parameters of an unknown material on its own.

Commonly used materials, like mass-manufactured polymers, have established sets of parameters that were perfected through tedious trial-and-error processes. To print a new material from scratch, you have to typically set up to 100 parameters in software that controls how the printer will extrude the material. The properties of renewable and recyclable materials can fluctuate widely based on their composition, so fixed parameter sets are nearly impossible to create. In this case, users must come up with all these parameters by hand.

Here is where the new 3D printer comes in. The researchers modified the extruder, so it can measure the forces and flow of a material. These data, gathered through a 20-minute test, are fed into a mathematical function that is used to automatically generate printing parameters. These parameters can be entered into off-the-shelf 3D printing software so it can print with nearly any material.

The automatically generated parameters can replace about half of the parameters that typically must be tuned by hand. In a series of test prints with unique materials, including several renewable materials, the researchers showed that their method can consistently produce viable parameters.

Photo: MIT via EurekAlert