3D printer with 'eyes and brains' opens up new applications

June 05, 2019 // By Rich Pell
3D printer with 'eyes and brains' opens up new applications
Additive manufacturing startup Inkbit (Medford, MA) has unveiled its first printer, which uses machine vision and artificial intelligence (AI) to expand the range of materials it can print with.

The company, a startup out of MIT, says it is working to bring all of the benefits of 3D printing to a slew of products that have never been printed before - and at volumes that would radically disrupt production processes in a variety of industries. To do so, the company is pairing its multimaterial inkjet 3-D printer with machine-vision and machine-learning systems.

The vision system comprehensively scans each layer of the object as it's being printed to correct errors in real-time, while the machine-learning system uses that information to predict the warping behavior of materials and make more accurate final products. The result, says the company, unlocks a range of potential applications.

The printer can print more flexible materials much more accurately than other printers. If an object, including a computer chip or other electronic component, is placed on the print area, the machine can precisely print materials around it. And when an object is complete, the machine keeps a digital replica that can be used for quality assurance.

"Everyone knows the advantages of 3D printing are enormous," says Inkbit co-founder and CEO Davide Marini PhD. "But most people are experiencing problems adopting it. The technology just isn't there yet."

"Our machine is the first one that can learn the properties of a material and predict its behavior," says Marini. "I believe it will be transformative, because it will enable anyone to go from an idea to a usable product extremely quickly. It opens up business opportunities for everyone."

The "eyes" of the machine use a custom optical coherence tomography (OCT) scanner that, says the company, is 100 times faster than anything else on the market today. It uses long wavelengths of light to see through the surface of materials and scan layers of material at a resolution the fraction of the width of a human hair.

When a layer is printed and scanned, the company’s proprietary machine-vision and

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