Ma­te­rial Sci­ence

MIT’S SELF-ASSEM­BLY LAB EX­PANDS THE PO­TEN­TIAL OF 3D PRINT­ING WITH A COL­LEC­TION OF IN­FLAT­ABLE OB­JECTS

Azure - - CONTENTS - WORDS _David Dick-agnew

Cre­at­ing in­flat­able ob­jects through Rapid Liq­uid Print­ing

Rub­bery pen­dants re­sem­bling milky bal­loons, ta­ble lamps that look like cinched chew­ing-gum bub­bles, pli­able vases with in­ter­sect­ing cham­bers: If these forms sound un­con­ven­tional, it’s be­cause they’re shaped by an un­con­ven­tional process.

Liq­uid to Air is a col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween Swiss de­signer Christophe Gu­beran and MIT’S Self-assem­bly Lab, which ex­plores trans­formable ob­jects and pro­gram­mable ma­te­ri­als. The team’s start­ing point for this line of lamps and ves­sels was the un­tapped po­ten­tial of their new Rapid Liq­uid Print­ing (RLP) tech­nol­ogy.

“The dream that ev­ery­one talks about with 3D print­ing – it hasn’t been re­al­ized,” says Sky­lar Tib­bits, the lab’s co-di­rec­tor. “Print­ing is gen­er­ally too slow, the ma­te­rial prop­er­ties aren’t very good and the ob­jects you can fab­ri­cate are re­ally small.”

Un­like most 3D print­ing tech­niques – which build ob­jects from the bot­tom up, one layer at a time – MIT’S process uses a robot­i­cally con­trolled sy­ringe to ex­trude room tem­per­a­ture liq­uid into a tank of gel. Be­cause the gel sup­ports the medium as it cures, RLP works with a vastly ex­panded range of ma­te­ri­als, freely draw­ing the ob­ject in a frac­tion of the time. “Sil­i­cone rub­ber is quite runny un­til it sets,” Tib­bits explains. “If you ex­trude it onto a sur­face, it just makes a pud­dle.”

The soft ma­te­rial gives 3D print­ing new po­ten­tial, proven with Liq­uid to Air’s in­flat­able ob­jects. Lamps can be col­lapsed for stor­age, half-in­flated for in­ti­mate set­tings or blown up to 10 times their ini­tial vol­ume to thin the walls and emit more light. “We con­trol the fi­nal shape by con­trol­ling the thick­ness of the wall,” Gu­beran says. “We can have two cham­bers in­side the bal­loon, to pro­duce dif­fer­ent qual­i­ties of light. You can’t do that with any other process.”

Soft ro­bot­ics are in the works, and mass cus­tomiza­tion – es­pe­cially pros­thet­ics and or­thotics – is an­other ob­vi­ous ap­pli­ca­tion. “We can pro­gram dif­fer­ent move­ment pat­terns and dif­fer­ent ma­te­ri­als so cer­tain parts are stronger or more flex­i­ble than oth­ers. We can cre­ate com­plex cham­bers, com­plex be­hav­iours and mul­ti­ple ver­sions,” Tib­bits says. “And that’s just the in­flat­a­bles.” self­assem­bly­lab.mit.edu, christophegu­beran.ch, patrick­par­rish.com

TOP: The Rapid Liq­uid Print­ing process uses a tank of gel to sup­port liq­uid sil­i­cone as it cures, al­low­ing new lay­ers to be ex­truded be­fore the pre­vi­ous ones have set.

MID­DLE AND LEFT:The Liq­uid to Air col­lec­tion com­prises a range of in­flat­able sil­i­cone lamps and ves­sels and is avail­able for pur­chase through the Pa­trick Par­rish Gallery in New York.

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