New 3D print tech lets you print as you design, like a rapid prototyping "print preview"

cornell 3d print
© Daryl Lovell / Cornell University

For all the great things about 3D printing, and there are many, one of the downsides is the waste that can come from a series of failed attempts at a design. Each time you print something that doesn't quite work, that prototype, and the plastic it's made of, are sent to the trash can.

We've seen software that identifies errors before they're printed, but a new 3D printing system from Cornell University has a better solution -- a way to print as you design so that changes can be made on the fly instead of having to scrap it and start all over.

The interactive printing system lets users print as they're designing a prototype and hit pause at any point to measure, test and make changes that will be added to the object in the printer.

“We are going from human-computer interaction to human-machine interaction,” said graduate student Huaishu Peng, who described the On-the-Fly-Print system.

The software is a plug-in to a CAD program that allows it to send instructions to the printer as changes are made and allow interruptions.

The system has other benefits over the traditional layer-by-layer approach of conventional 3D printers. While the nozzle only works vertically, the actual stage that the item is printed on can rotate to place any side of the object facing up so that the printer can add to it. It also has a cutting tool for removing parts of the print or adding holes to the design. The stage can be removed from the printer so that the object can be measured and tested at any point and then returned for additional printing.

The system uses what's called WirePrint technology where the printer extrudes a rope of quick-hardening resin to create a wire frame of the actual object being prototyped. It's used for the design and testing process before a solid version is built.

In testing the system they designed and printed the LEGO airplane above. It required the addition of wings, the cutting out of a cockpit and multiple checks to make sure the wingspan would fit a LEGO airport set as it printed. The whole process only took 10 minutes.

New 3D print tech lets you print as you design, like a rapid prototyping "print preview"
The new system from Cornell could make 3D printing even faster and more precise.

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