Skylar Tibbits and Marcelo Coelho from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have come up with a creative way to remove the build size limitations of your 3D printer. They've created a printing method they call Hyperform; it's a series of interlocking links which can be bent into any shape imaginable after printing. Taking their cue from the natural structures of protein and DNA, Tibbits and Coelho identified a computational folding strategy which allows everything they print to be folded in on itself during the build and then stretched into form later.
Unfortunately, moving the chains into place has to be done by hand after printing, so it's a time consuming process. "You have to fold it by hand and click it into place," Tibbits said. Also, correctly printing so many tiny, tightly-packed chains within a single square proved to be too much for most of the 3D printers the team tried. "We blew a lot of printers at first," Tibbits said. Eventually, the team found the Form 1 3D printer from Formlabs. It's a stereolithography 3D printer capable of forming layers 25 microns thick, with details as small as 300 microns.
So far the largest thing Tibbits and Coelho have Hyperform printed is a chandelier. "There is a range of things that are largish that we can do right away," says Tibbits. "But if you want to make large-scale furniture or buildings, there needs to be an approach to make them stronger."
Earlier this month Hyperform won the "The Next Idea" prize at the Ars Electronica 2013 technology festival in Linz, Austria. You can take a look at the team's video presentation here: