Researcher invents 3D printing technique for making cuddly stuff

Apr 28, 2014
A 3-D printer developed by Carnegie Mellon University and Disney Research Pittsburgh feeds yarn into desired shapes and uses a needle to turn the yarn into a loose felt. Credit: Carnegie Mellon University/Disney Research Pittsburgh

Soft and cuddly aren't words used to describe the plastic or metal things typically produced by today's 3D printers. But a new type of printer developed by Carnegie Mellon University and Disney Research Pittsburgh can turn wool and wool blend yarns into fabric objects that people might actually enjoy touching.

The device looks something like a cross between a 3D and a sewing machine and produces 3D objects made of a form of loose felt. Scott Hudson, a professor in CMU's Human-Computer Interaction Institute who developed the felting printer with Disney Research support, said the results are reminiscent of hand-knitted materials.

"I really see this material being used for things that are held close," Hudson said. "We're really extending the set of materials available for 3D printing and opening up new possibilities for what can be manufactured."

That could include apparel, accessories such as scarves and hats and even Teddy Bears. It also might be used to produce parts for so-called "soft robots" – robots designed to touch or be near people. Hudson will discuss the felting printer April 28 at the CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems in Toronto.

Like other 3D printers, Hudson's machine can make objects by working directly from computerized designs. It thus can be used for rapid prototyping of objects and to customize products.

This video is not supported by your browser at this time.

In fact, the operation of the machine is similar to Fused Deposition Modeling, or FDM, the most common process used in low-end 3D printers. In a FDM printer, melted plastic is extruded in a thin line into a layer; subsequent layers are added to achieve the object's desired shape, with the layers adhering to each other as the plastic cools.

In the felting printer, however, the printer head feeds out yarn instead of lines of melted plastic. A barbed felting needle attached to the printer head then repeatedly pierces the yarn, dragging down individual fibers into the yarn in the layers below, entangling the fibers and bonding the layers together.

Hudson said the printer doesn't achieve the same dimensional accuracy as conventional 3D printers because the yarn is much thicker than the layers of plastic deposited in FDM printing. The felt also is not as strong as typical fabric, he noted, so if the soft objects are to be attached to a hard , a layer of nylon mesh fabric must be incorporated during the printing process. This provides reinforcement to prevent the material from ripping away at the attachment point.

This video is not supported by your browser at this time.

Hudson demonstrated techniques for bridging between the soft and hard materials, for manipulating the degree of stiffness in the soft objects and for incorporating electronic components.

These techniques require some assembly of objects because the printer now produces only fabric objects. But Hudson said it should be possible to design a printer that could produce both fabric and plastic elements in a single fabrication.

"A number of researchers are looking at mixed materials in 3D printing," he added. "That's one of the most interesting challenges now."

Explore further: Researchers use 3D printing to produce interactive speakers of any shape

More information: www.disneyresearch.com/project… printed-teddy-bears/

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Crowd sourcing project to allow 3D scan-to-print web app

Aug 05, 2013

Technology to allow for printing three dimensional objects is evolving rapidly, making it difficult for some to keep up. It's also still relatively expensive. Currently, people who wish to print such an object ...

Recommended for you

Tomorrow's degradable electronics

9 hours ago

When the FM frequencies are removed in Norway in 2017, all old-fashioned radios will become obsolete, leaving the biggest collection of redundant electronics ever seen – a mountain of waste weighing something ...

Building the world's fastest downhill racer

Nov 19, 2014

I'd like to say that it's not every day you get asked to try to break a world record with a speed-obsessed truck mechanic from Grimsby, but for us at the Centre for Sports Engineering Research it's starting ...

Recycling Styrofoam into rigid plastic

Nov 18, 2014

Mexican entrepreneurs designed the first machine in the nation capable of recycling Styrofoam (expanded polystyrene) and transforming it into a raw material used in the manufacture of transparent hard plastic.

User comments : 2

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

peter_trypsteen
not rated yet Apr 28, 2014
A 3d printer that could print out clothes would be very useful.
antialias_physorg
not rated yet Apr 28, 2014
Already done (skip to the 4:30 mark)
http://www.youtub...y9EP9ClE

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.