The folks at Disney have been exploring some really interesting techniques for fabrication. Their latest is this interesting method of 3D printing with fabric.
The process is best described as an automated system for assembling laser cut layers of fabric. Their machine resembles a tiny assembly line more than a standard 3D printer.
First, a vacuum platform holds a roll of fabric with the bottom exposed. A laser cuts the shape of the object and support material from below while the vacuum holds everything in place.
Then, the laser is removed from the area and the “build platform” raises to accept the cut piece.
Next, a tool is deployed to adhere key points of the fabric to the build platform or previous layer.
This process is repeated until you have a solid block of fabric constructed from the desired object and the support material. This block must be manually finished by carefully removing the support material to reveal the “printed” object.
The machine is capable of using two materials during the process allowing for embedding of conductive materials as well. Their documentation says that they have experimented with embedding coils and LEDs and even touch sensors into soft objects, allowing for soft interactive toys. Cutting the material in different fashions, such as scoring with parallel lines, allows for controlled flexibility.
All of these experiments combined could produce some very interesting results. Let’s hope they continue to release their experiments to the world so that we can enjoy them.