A new software pipeline could radically change the way objects are replicated in personal and commercial 3-D printers. Here, a cake is printed on glass.

OpenFab makes it easier and cheaper for 3-D printers to create objects, and to create objects with varying densities. Here, a squishy teddy bear.

3-D-printed teddy bears.

Squishing a 3-D-printed teddy bear to demonstrate its density and flexibility.

3-D-printed statuary.

3-D-printed butterflies in "amber."

3-D Printing Just Got Faster, Cheaper And... Squishier

If you thought all 3-D-printed items had to be made of tough plastic, think again. MIT's new 3-D-printing tool, OpenFab, can quickly create flexible 3-D-printed items.

A new software pipeline could radically change the way objects are replicated in personal and commercial 3-D printers. MIT's OpenFab, which will be formally unveiled later this month at a conference in California, makes it easier and cheaper for 3-D printers to create objects, and to create objects with varying densities, which is big news for industrial clients. The team working on OpenFab has already created squishy teddy bears, a marble table, and a butterfly encased in "amber."

"Our software pipeline makes it easier to design and print new materials and to continuously vary the properties of the object you are designing," said MIT's Kiril Vidimče. "In traditional manufacturing most objects are composed of multiple parts made out of the same material. With OpenFab, the user can change the material consistency of an object, for example designing the object to transition from stiff at one end to flexible and compressible at the other end."

While OpenFab is a comparatively small advance, it's one with big ramifications. The home 3-D-printing industry is booming, scientists are 3-D printing a variety of objects, and the technology will transform fields like health care. The challenge for 3-D printing enthusiasts and vendors now is to convince customers that 3-D printing will transform their businesses and be good for more than just creating cool doodads on your computer. Advances like OpenFab will go a long way to changing that.

[Images: MIT]

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