The rise of multi-material 3D printing

When architect Skylar Tibbits announced a project to develop morphing materials earlier this year, he rekindled public imagination about 3D printing.

In collaboration with Minneapolis-based group Stratasys, Tibbits has set up a radical lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to create materials that self-assemble.

Central to his work is the use of multi-material 3D printing to programme different properties into various parts of a product’s geometry. The idea is that these parts will have varying water-absorbing characteristics that activate a change in shape when they come into contact with moisture. The process could lead to structures such as self-assembling furniture, or water pipes that know when to expand and contract.

‘There’s an unprecedented revolution happening,’ said Tibbits. ‘This is the ability to programme physical and biological materials to change shape, change properties and even compute outside of silicon-based matter. But if we look at the human scale, there are massive problems that aren’t being addressed by those nanoscale technologies. If we look at construction
and manufacturing, there are major inefficiencies, energy consumption and excessive labour techniques.’

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May 16, 2013



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