Disney’s research division, in collaboration with Carnegie Mellon University and Cornell University, has developed a new 3D printer that is capable of creating objects out of layers of fabric. 3D printers create three-dimensional objects by depositing one layer at a time until the object is completed.
The technique basically works by cutting a sheet of fabric with a laser, treating the fabric with a heat sensitive adhesive, cutting another layer of fabric and putting it on top of the first layer. This processes continues until the desired object is built.
When the object is built it looks like a cube of fabric. The excess fabric is peeled away, revealing a soft 3D object inside.
The printer can automatically feed two separate fabric types into a single print, allowing specially cut layers of conductive fabric to be embedded in soft prints.
According to Disney Research:
“Our printer cuts fabric in the profile of layer slices with a high powered laser and bonds those shapes to previously cut layers using a heat activated fusible adhesive. In this way, objects are built up layer after layer to form whatever 3D geometry has been specified. Material outside layer profiles is temporarily left in place to provide support for overhang features in the layers above it (but removed at the end of the print to reveal the printed object). Our printer supports the use of two different fabric types in one print.”
“This allows a number of additional features to be included in prints. For example, objects with printed ‘wiring’ can be constructed using conductive fabric. This ‘wiring’ is completely flexible since it is formed with, and entirely embedded inside of, fabric sheets.”
“We have used this capability in several proof-of-concept demonstration objects including a soft cell phone case which contains a printed fabric coil capable of harvesting power from the NFC hardware of an off-the-shelf cell phone.”