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"Felting printer" creates soft 3D-printed teddy bears

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April 28, 2014

One of the finished felt teddy bears, alongside its digital model

One of the finished felt teddy bears, alongside its digital model

Image Gallery (2 images)

Ask someone to think of a 3D-printed object, and chances are they'll picture something hard ... or perhaps rubbery. Thanks to new technology developed by Carnegie Mellon University and Disney Research Pittsburgh, however, it's now possible to make soft and fuzzy 3D-printed items, using yarn instead of plastic or resin. Among the first items to be created were little felt teddy bears.

Designed by Carnegie Mellon's Prof. Scott Hudson, the "felting printer" used to make the items actually looks a lot like an embroidery machine. However, it actually works on the same principle as fused deposition modeling (FDM), the 3D printing process in which items are built up in successive layers deposited one on top of another.

On a regular FDM printer, spools of filament line are pulled into the machine and melted, then extruded from the print head to form each layer. On the felting printer, the filament is replaced with yarn. And instead of being melted, the yarn is repeatedly pierced with a barbed felting needle, which drags individual fibers down into the layers of yarn below. This causes the fibers of adjacent layers to become entangled, thus joining the layers to one another.

As with other 3D printers, it builds objects based on computer models.

Along with li'l teddy bears, such machines could be conceivably be used to manufacture ite...

Due to the fact that yarn is much thicker than the layers extruded by a conventional FDM machine, the resolution of the printed objects is correspondingly coarser. Additionally, because the felt objects can be pulled apart quite easily, they must incorporate a base of stronger material such as nylon mesh, if plans call for them to be attached to anything.

As demonstrated by Hudson, it's possible to incorporate electronics into the items, and to manipulate their level of pliability, although doing so does involve manually placing components within them. Down the road, however, he hopes that it will be possible to use one multi-material machine to create such composite objects, all within a single build.

Along with li'l teddy bears, such machines could be conceivably be used to manufacture items such as winter clothing, or parts for soft-bodied robots.

The felting printer can be seen in action, in the video below.

Source: Disney Research Pittsburgh

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away.   All articles by Ben Coxworth
5 Comments

A little way to go before he knits a sweater, then.

The Skud
28th April, 2014 @ 07:54 pm PDT

I think this has a lot of potential and possibilities for the future.

BigGoofyGuy
29th April, 2014 @ 06:25 am PDT

Cool! you can print mini voodoo key chain dolls from this tech :P

Doris Lee
30th April, 2014 @ 09:38 pm PDT

This represents a big step forward in the home creation of choking & strangulation hazards for small children. Not every new tool is especially safe for all users or those who encounter the new toy on the block.

StWils
1st May, 2014 @ 11:29 am PDT

@StWils I hope u are joking. First off only an idiot would allow an infant around a printer of any kind let alone a 3d printer. Second off most of then objects/products that exist in our world are not safe for infants so wtf is your point?

"Not every tool is especially safe for all users" (don't know what the heck the rest of the rest of that statement is meant to mean. But the part I quoted is also absolutely absurd. A tool is built for a specific job, the large majority of tools are not safe for "all users". Do u think a chop saw, circular saw, drill, etc would be safe for an infant, child, or even an adult with now experience.

GifCo
5th August, 2014 @ 07:50 pm PDT
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