Disney Discovers How to 3D Print with Fabric

We have seen 3D printers produce objects from plastic and even metal. But the Magic Kingdom is living up to its name with the announcement that it has designed a 3D printer capable of printing with fabric. A group of researchers at Cornell University, Carnegie Mellon and Disney Research unveiled the invention in a paper last weekend.

According to the researchers, the device is capable of forming precise, but soft and deformable 3D objects from layers of off-the-shelf fabric. Among the objects the research team produced were a fabric bunny, a Japanese doll, a touch sensor made of fabric, and a smartphone case with an embedded conductive fabric coil for wireless power reception.

Touch-Sensitive, Wireless Power

To form each object, the printer uses a single sheet of fabric to create each layer of the object. The printer cuts this sheet along the 2D contour of the layer using a laser cutter and then bonds it to previously printed layers using a heat sensitive adhesive. Surrounding fabric in each layer is temporarily retained to provide a removable support structure for layers printed above it. This process is then repeated to build up a 3D object layer by layer.

According to the researchers, the printer is capable of automatically feeding two separate fabric types into a single print, which allows specially cut layers of conductive fabric to be embedded in soft prints. The printer can use that capability to create touch-sensitive objects built from fabric in a single, unified printing process. In addition to touch sensitivity, the printer can also build objects that support wireless power as well.

Disney Research says the new process can create objects with the full range of characteristics normally associated with other products made of fabric, including the ability of material to drape over objects and to have variable...

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