Additive Manufacturing Strategies

Apple’s Patent Application Could Potentially Revolutionize Multicolor 3D Printing

ST Medical Devices

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The Apple rumor mill continues to churn! Last year, murmurs that the mega-corporation may be planning to enter the 3D printing market began to circulate after Apple filed for several patents related to 3D printing. Today, a new patent application was published; if it comes to fruition, it could result in something completely new for 3D printers.

Currently, multicolored 3D prints are something of a fantasy for most makers. Sure, there are plenty of materials available for painting and finishing a print once it’s complete, but without that extra work, makers are pretty much consigned to a monochromatic print. There are exceptions: the Cube Pro, for example, is capable of creating tri-colored prints, and a successful Kickstarter last year produced the Dreammaker Overlord, which allows users to change filament colors mid-print. What Apple is proposing is something different entirely.

colorprintThe theoretical printer would, essentially, paint your print while it is being printed. The system would involve two print heads – one for depositing material, one for depositing color. Apple has proposed several possible iterations of the color application. In the first, the main print head would deposit a layer of material, like usual, at which point the color print would deposit a layer of color, followed by another layer of material, and so on. Another possibility involves the color print head moving in to apply color after the print job has finished. Or it could all happen at once: one suggestion involves a color application nozzle that could rotate 360 degrees around the print head, spraying the layers with color as they are being deposited.

Potential methods for applying color would include inkjet technology, airbrushing, spray nozzles or multicolored markers mounted on spring heads. The full patent application, which was filed by Geoffrey Stahl and Howard A. Miller in May 2014, can be perused here, if you’d like to read more detail about the proposed design methods, as well as potential challenges.

“In general, a 3D object may be produced and colored by a 3D printer using the same digital 3D model. The digital model for a desired 3D object may be revised to include a process for coloring the object by the 3D printer. In one embodiment, this may involve coloring to the object after it has been made. In an alternative embodiment, color may be added as the object is being made. Because the 3D model provides knowledge of the surface, contours and all the coordinates of the 3D object being printed, the object can be colored using the same digital model,” the patent application explains.

colorprint2

It’s unclear, at this time, if Apple plans to market the printer it describes. Apple fanatics hoping for a 3D printer to go with their iPhones may be tearing their hair out at this point, as the company started filing 3D printing-related patents but is still remaining mum about what it intends to do with them. It seems unlikely, however, that Apple would pass on the opportunity to grab onto such a rapidly growing and lucrative piece of technology.

They’d better hurry, though – other major corporations, such as Samsung, are also teasing possible entries into the 3D printing market with their own patent applications – including for multicolor 3D printers. Apple has never been one to drag its heels when it comes to new technology, so don’t be surprised if some major announcements come from the company before too long.  What do you think this patent may mean?  Let us know in the Apple 3D Printing forum thread on 3DPB.com.

[Source: Apple Insider]

 

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