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When the MIT Media lab released the gorgeous video of their glass 3d printer, they sparked something in the mind of Victor Leung. He was so inspired that he went on to create this fantastic printer that uses sugar as the raw material, melting it and laying it down in structures that look very similar to glass.
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This molten sugar 3D printer designed by Victor serves no practical purpose other than printing colorful sculptures. The sculptures are way too unhealthy to eat, spontaneously melt in high humidity and attracts unwanted insects. However, it’s true purpose is the educational experience for students to explore the technology that enabled 3D printing in detailed depth. Understanding the complexity of CNC controlled robotics and fascinating material science that allowed us to appreciate the 3D printer as a marvel combination of the two science.
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Some of the work you see below is from an 11-day robotics workshop, sponsored by MakeBlock, in the Architectural Association Visiting School (Hong Kong), hosted by Victor. Students learn all about CNC control theory, robotics and printing. They were able to create sculptures using the sugar printer during this period. You can see more about the project and the workshop on Victor’s site.
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I asked Victor a few questions about this project.
What inspired you?
The MIT Media Lab had created the first Glass 3D printer capable of printing with molten glass at 1000 degrees Celsius. The material behavior of sugar is very similar to glass, they both exhibit a change in viscosity with a change of temperature. I have learnt from the glass 3D printer’s kiln design, using gravity as the feeding mechanism.
What was the hardest part, or the most difficult problem to solve?
 
The printing nozzle and sugar reservoir are custom made. There are many requirements to design this part. This reservoir needs to be water tight, it needs to withstand temperatures up to 150degC, it needs to have a heating element to keep the sugar warm, it needs insulation to keep the temperature steady, it needs to interface with a nozzle at the bottom and a thermocouple, and the whole assembly needs to be easily washable.
 
If you were to do it over again, what would you do differently?
 
There are future works to be pursued, for example improving the feed system to use a higher pressure extrusion method instead of gravity feed. This will allow a smaller nozzle size, higher printing resolution and faster feed rate.  Printing on a non flat bed is also another interesting experiment.
 
What tool was the most helpful?
 
It is hard to give one answer as many tools are essential in creating the project. Makeblock components are super helpful to reduce the time necessary to make parts that fit together. I also find a waterjet cutter to be a versatile machine for making machine parts in aluminum.  I use Rhino 5.0 to design my machine assembly and custom parts, and it is very effective.
How did Makeblock, the DIY robotics construction platform, enable your students to create workable robots/machines despite having little or no relevant background knowledge
 
Makeblock parts can be easily connected together with screws and other fixtures to create a precise machine. This allows students with no experience in metalwork to focus on assembling the machine without worrying about fabricating the individual parts. All the components are designed with a 4mm modular system, they can be connected easily with each other.
 
Makeblock components are all reusable, it is easy for a student to make correction to a mistake or to modify the machine to try something new. This creative experimentation that is not easily achievable with traditional machine-making approach. 
[Editor’s note: The workshop was sponsored by Makeblock]