In June, we covered the 2017 startup Inkbit and their closed-loop 3D printing system that’s powered by machine vision and machine learning. They recently released more samples of their work, including lenses printed over LEDs, a blade holder, and fiber optic bundles.
The Inkbit AM platform uses material jetting technology to deposit photopolymer resins that are rapidly cured. Most material jetting 3D printers that use the same technology have a roller or scraper that levels each layer after its deposited, but the Inkbit platform uses machine vision and machine learning to look at the top of each layer and adjust the next layer’s deposition accordingly. This saves time and reduces waste.
Beyond making sure each layer is flat, the system can improve print quality of specific materials and geometries as CEO of Inkbit Davide Marini explains, “There’s a lot that you can do with the data that you’ve gathered by scanning every layer. You can train the machine learning algorithm to learn the properties of each material to anticipate its behavior. For example, if a material shrinks, the printer will learn to print features that are a little larger to compensate.”
The vision system also enables 3D printing on and around other objects. Inkbit researchers at the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) have successfully printed a case around a smartphone, lenses on LEDs, and a handle on a razor blade. Currently, the objects have to be manually placed into the 3D printer, but integrating a pick-and-place robotic arm is only a matter of time (and money).
The Inkbit system can already handle up to 10 materials and they’re working with global chemical manufacturers to expand that number. When conductive materials are factored in, their system could fabricate a wide range of advanced electronics, such as flexible strips that light up when they bend past a certain angle or bicycle helmets that stiffen when they detect a set number of G forces.
When a single machine can make all that, it’s both a product development tool and a small factory. Inkbit is currently installing prototypes of its 3D printers to accumulate some real-world use case data and they plan on selling them later this year.