A team from Disney Research and Carnegie Mellon University has devised a 3D printer that layers together laser-cut sheets of fabric to form soft, squeezable objects such as bunnies, doll clothing and phone cases.
These objects can have complex geometries and incorporate circuitry that makes them interactive.
The new fabric printer is similar to laminated object manufacturing, which takes sheets of paper or metal which have each been cut into a 2D shape and then bonds them together to form a 3D object.
“Today’s 3D printers can easily create custom metal, plastic, and rubber objects,” said Jim McCann, associate research scientist at Disney Research Pittsburgh.
“But soft fabric objects, like plush toys, are still fabricated by hand. Layered fabric printing is one possible method to automate the production of this class of objects,” McCann added.
The team demonstrated this technique to create a two-inch bunny. The process took about two-and-half hours.
During the process, the laser cuts a rectangular piece out of the fabric roll and then cuts the layer’s desired 2D shape within that rectangle.
Once the process is complete, the bonding platform is raised up to the fabric and the vacuum is shut off to release the fabric.
The fabric is coated with a heat-sensitive adhesive and non-stitched fabric ornamentation is applied onto a costume or banner.
Once the process is complete, the surrounding support fabric is torn away by hand to reveal the 3D object.
The layered-fabric printer will be unveiled at the Association for Computing Machinery’s annual Conference in Seoul from April 18 to 23.