3D printing evolves at MIT’s Self-Assembly Lab

According to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Self-Assembly Lab team, led by director Skylar Tibbits, 3D printing hasn’t taken off as a mainstream manufacturing process for three particular reasons. From its slowness compared to conventional process like injection moulding and casting, to its scale limitations and its typically low-quality material, 3D printing has a number of hindrances that prevent it from reaching its full potential.

In response to 3D printing’s challenges, the Self-Assembly Lab, in collaboration with Steelcase, has developed an advanced technology that speeds the process up. Called ‘Rapid Liquid Printing’, it allows architects and designers to print in a 3D space, yielding production that’s faster for orders of magnitude.

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An experimental process, rapid liquid printing physically draws the design in a 3D space within a gel suspension, and enables the creation of large scale, customised products. Compared to other techniques, the lab believes this is the first development to combine industrial materials with extremely fast print speeds in such a precisely controlled process.

With no limits to scale, rapid liquid printing can be used to produce a fully-finished chair, table top, car panels or other large-scale structures. Architects can also work with high-quality materials, such as industrial grade rubber, foams, plastics and other liquid materials.

“This has big implications for customers who increasingly wish to be co-designers,” reads a statement released by the lab’s team. “Especially as today’s workers are rejecting the uninspiring ‘sea of sameness’ in the office, and craving destinations that promote self-expression.”

The Self-Assembly Lab is a cross-disciplinary research lab that strives to develop and invent programmable material technologies that reimagine construction, manufacturing, product assembly and performance. For the rapid printing technology, the team partnered with Steelcase, a long-term research partner that specialises in workplace design and consultation.

Recently, the Bartlett’s Design Computation Lab revealed a new software programme that advances the process of 3D printing. Read about it here

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