3D printed origami robots that crawl and grab when activated by magnets

A team at MIT’s Department of Mechanical Engineering and Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering have created a set of foldable, 3D printed robots that are doped with magnetic particles that are precisely aligned during printing; when triggered by a control-magnet they engage in precise movements: grabbing, jumping, rolling, squeezing, etc.

The anticipated uses are biomedical: guiding devices through the digestive tract or selectively clamping blood vessels, for example.

MIT Engineers Design Responsive 3D-Printed Structures Remotely Controlled by Magnets [Colossal]

3D printers touted as future for farm machinery fixes at Farm Progress

“What’s better than making stuff out of something that’s grown versus fossil fuel plastics?”

John Delorme, right, and Ethan Delorme look at a 3D printer on display at Canada’s Farm Progress Show at Evraz Place. BRANDON HARDER / Regina Leader-Post

Randy Janes believes farm machinery parts will soon be printed instead of traditionally manufactured.

Eventually farmers will have their own 3D printers, said Janes, owner of 3D printing company Wave of the Future. When machinery breaks, they will be able to print their own parts after getting a part design file — an STL file — from implement companies.

“John Deere, Case, New Holland, all these other companies in the world, … they’re going to slowly figure out what an STL file is and what the value of an STL file is,” said Janes, an exhibitor at Canada’s Farm Progress Show which winds up Friday at Evraz Place.

Buying the design file and printing it yourself would significantly speed up the repair process, said Janes.

“If you’re on your farm and you break a cog on one of your pieces of equipment and you need to get the crop off by tomorrow, you’re not getting it off,” he said. “You print that cog, (and) by lunch time or the next morning, you have the part on your table and you go out and don’t lose your crop.”

Darren Grose, an engineer at Rodono Industries Ltd. — a manufacturing business in Alberta — thinks it will be a long time before 3D printed parts have the durability they need.

“Durability is a big issue with printed parts, whereas traditionally manufactured parts are meant to last 50 or 100 years. So yes, a lot of investment went into them, but they’re meant to last a long time,” he said. “The parts that we manufacture are all steel.”

It’s expensive and difficult to 3D print with steel at this point, although Janes said it has been done before.

But Janes isn’t focusing on steel. He thinks polylactic acid (PLA) is the material of the future. PLA is a polyester filament made from renewable materials. He’s been working with a filament made from corn starch and sugar.

He is also developing a new PLA type that is “more heat resistant, more UV guard, more flexible, all those things,” he said. “What’s better than making stuff out of something that’s grown versus fossil fuel plastics?”

Randy Janes sits in a camper trailer he says he built using his 3D printer at Canada’s Farm Progress Show at Evraz Place. BRANDON HARDER/ Regina Leader-Post BRANDON HARDER / Regina Leader-Post

Janes is convinced 3D printed parts are durable even though they’re not steel, based on a camper he made with his 3D printer, the largest in North America. He has also printed parts for his own vehicle and said they are still doing fine two years later.

The camper is printed out of PETG, a filament made from recycled plastic bottles. It took him nine days to print the camper on his 28x5x7-foot printer.

Janes is also working on developing a regenerator system that would allow farmers to recycle their own plastics and turn them into new printed products. He gave the example of taking silo bags and turning them into a new tractor fender.

“3D printing is additive manufacturing, so you have no waste when you’re done with the product,” he said.


3D Printer Tech Cuts Paper

While 3D printing has been a great thing all by itself, it has also made electromechanical hardware a commodity item. Instead of raiding an old printer for motors and rods of unknown provenance, you can now buy everything very inexpensively due to the economy of scale and offshore manufacturing.

[Mr. Innovation] proves this point with his recent paper cutting machine which feeds and slices paper strips with user-selected width and quantity. He did steal one roller assembly from an old printer, but most of it is straight out of a 3D printer build. There’s NEMA stepper motors, modular motor driver boards, smooth rods, belts, and pulleys.

The blade of the cutter is just a standard snap off box cutter blade. It is angled so it doesn’t drag when the motor pulls it back to the home position after a cut. Honestly, we might have made the paper mechanism retract the paper a bit at that point, but that would be simple to add to the device’s firmware.

You might think an automated paper cutter is a bit lazy, but we could see if you were cutting up flyers for a hackerspace event, or cutting paper insulators to fit in an enclosure for a kit you were selling in small quantities.

The biggest issue we saw was that the machine is open loop. It would have been interesting to put an optical sensor between the roller and the blade. When the paper covered the sensor you’d know the position of the edge and could then move the paper a precise amount, assuming it didn’t slip. Another idea would be to put the sensor after the blade in such a way that it could be moved so that the cut would happen once the paper covered the sensor. You could probably do the same thing with a microswitch or some other sensor.

Still, this looks like a simple but useful project for some leftover 3D printer parts. Just be careful with the open blade.

We couldn’t help but think about building this with a floppy disk blade for cutting plastic. Or you could mount a laser (but use a different power supply, please).

MRI to 3D Print Gets Much Faster

A surprising use of 3D printing has been in creating life-like models of human body parts using MRI or CT scans. Surgeons and other medical professionals can use models to plan procedures or assist in research. However, there has been a problem. The body is a messy complex thing and there is a lot of data that comes out of a typical scan. Historically, someone had to manually identify structures on each slice — a very time-consuming process — or set a threshold value and hope for the best. A recent paper by a number of researchers around the globe shows how dithering scans can vastly improve results while also allowing for much faster processing times.

As an example, a traditional workflow to create a 3D printed foot model from scan data took over 30 hours to complete including a great deal of manual intervention. The new method produced a great model in less than an hour.

One thing the researchers note is that the technique should be easy to adopt since it uses all open source software and existing image processing algorithms. There are some limitations, though. There are several things that limit the resolution and can introduce inaccuracies. For example, MRI intensity versus actual tissue appearance is highly variable based on the scanning machine’s settings and operator.

The researchers also note that advances in scanning technology will make even better 3D printed models possible. Naturally though, these prints aren’t coming off a $150 hobby-grade printer. The Connex500 printer used costs a cool quarter of a million dollars. It can print up to 14 different materials in the same job and has a reasonably large build volume (500x400x200 mm). That price, however, doesn’t include the water station to wash away support material, so budget accordingly.

We couldn’t help but wonder if you will one day have a bad part of your body scanned, printed, and then you’ll get the new part to replace the old. It seems like if you have a model of a body part, it would be just a little math to print a perfect cast, brace, or splint, too. But, then again, we aren’t doctors.

Photo Credit: Steven Keating and Ahmed Hosny/Wyss Institute at Harvard University

WSU team 3D prints drug-delivering contact lenses

Just weeks after Newcastle University researchers made headlines for their world-first 3D printed corneas, it appears a team at Washington State University (WSU) has also been keeping its eye on 3D printing’s potential in making medical treatments for the visually impaired.

After receiving an 18 month exploratory research grant, WSU researchers have created a kind of 3D printed contact lens that could be used as a cheaper alternative to laser eye surgery.

Alternative eye therapies needed

According to recent estimates from the U.S. National Eye Institute (NEI) over 35 million people in America were affected by age related eye disease in 2010. By 2050, the institute expects this figure to double.

Diabetic retinopathy, which will affect around one third of world’s diabetics in their lifetime, is one example of such diseases. In people aged 65 and over, the condition affected around 7.7 million people in 2010.

The estimated number of American citizens over the age of 65 affected by diabetic retinopathy in 2010 and 2050. Image via the National Eye InstituteThe estimated number of American citizens over the age of 65 affected by diabetic retinopathy in 2010 and 2050. Image via the National Eye Institute

Introducing: microneedle arrays

It is always challenging to treat such delicate conditions. At WSU, researchers propose a direct treatment method using microneedle arrays.

A technology that has been around in medicine for some time, microneedle arrays have been proven as an effective means of controlling drug delivery into the body.

Unlike a hypodermic needle, microneedles create small, shallow invasions in the skin. As an array, in this case of around 25, the microneedles are created to gradually deliver drugs into the body over an extended period of time. Treatment this way improves drug effectiveness, and reduces the risk of side effects.

Insertion of a hypodermic needle vs. microneedle array. Image via Clinical and Experimental Vaccine Research 2014/Korean Vaccine Society.Insertion of a hypodermic needle vs. microneedle array. Image via Clinical and Experimental Vaccine Research 2014/Korean Vaccine Society.

Controlled drug delivery

WSU researchers propose to make their eye microneedle arrays using 3D printing, meaning that each one could, in effect, be custom-made for specific patients and conditions.

To achieve the fine resolution required for these devices, a vat photopolymerization technique, such as SLA, DLP or even nanolithography, is likely the best route of fabrication.

The plan is to apply the drug-loaded arrays directly to a patient’s eye. The microneedles would be left there potentially for up to a month. Then, thanks to the WSU assistant professor Kuen-Ren “Roland” Chen’s  “locking” and “unlocking” technology, they would be removed afterwards causing minimal damage and discomfort.

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Featured image shows a 3D printed prototype of a programmable microneedle array for the eye. Photo via WSU