3D printing flaw allowed us to create a practical plastic fabric

TECHNOLOGY

Jack Foreman, PhD student at MIT Media Lab, figured out how to take advantage of a defect in FDM printers, which creates specific gaps in an object during printing. Formally, they are considered a lack of technology, a consequence of insufficient extrusion, and the product turns out to be defective. However, Foreman noted that if there are more than one such defects, the printed product gets new physical properties.

Foreman’s idea is that if you arrange the empty cells in a certain order, then a flexible layer is formed in a solid material that can be stretched. At the same time, even the presence of many gaps does not reduce the strength of the product; the layers surrounding the defective area retain their strength. Consequently, if you choose the correct order of interleaving the blank cells, you can print something like a mesh design that is highly flexible.

Foreman and colleagues developed algorithms for the 3D printer, causing it to interrupt extrusion at specific points. As a result, they got a sheet of plastic with the properties of a fabric, which the inventors called “DefeXtiles”. Engineers printed several rolls of such fabric and made lace fabrics from it, an analogue of a woman’s skirt and a lampshade for a table lamp. The next step is to design a mesh with clearly defined parameters – for example, for use in medicine instead of traditional bandages.

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