Nervous System Explores 3D Printing to Create Form in Pre-Stretched Fabric

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If you haven’t heard of the design group Nervous System, you should take a few minutes to look at the work they have been producing over the past ten years. Founded by Jessica Rosenkrantz and Jesse Louis-Rosenberg, both graduates of MIT, the studio is based in Somerville, Massachusetts and has assembled an impressive portfolio of design work during its short existence. In addition to having their work discussed in the New York Times and Forbes, their pieces are counted among the collections of the MoMA, Cooper-Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, and the MFA in Boston. In other words, you’d be wise to keep an eye on them.

As Nervous System have made a name for themselves, they have also grown to include a studio coordinator, a fabrication lead, and interns. This January, an intern named Gabe Fields worked on a project to understand the way in which using 3D printing could create forms when material was distributed on a piece of stretched fabric. Fields came to Nervous System as a third year student at MIT studying computer science with a minor in design. Fields, like so many other talented designers and those with opportunities to attend school at places like MIT, is busily exploring a wide variety of media, materials, fields, and connections, from glass blowing to teaching physics in virtual reality.

The idea behind the stretched fabric project was to see what potential existed for creating 3D forms by printing a grid of hexagons in a particular pattern on a piece of fabric which had been stretched over the build plate of a 3D printer. Once the fabric is returned to its natural state, it should deform in a particular manner in line with the guides created by the 3D printed grid. The first step was to use a program that could translate a 3D model into a series of points for printing, using the Boundary-First Flattening algorithm created by Rohan Sawhney and Keenan Cranes. The 3D model and its flattened counterpart were then put into an OpenFrameworks program to determine the amount of shrinkage that will occur in each triangular plane, in order to understand how the flat surface has to be changed to create the desired form.

Not only does the arrangement of the pattern have to change depending on the desired final form, but also the density of the printed pattern. The areas that need to have the greatest height to them after the fabric is released also need to have the greatest number of printed hexagons as this causes them to push forward as the fabric tries to return to its natural pre-stretched state. As Fields explained in terms of the print of a face model:

“Let’s look at it practically with the example of the nose or mouth, which sticks out a lot in the 3D model and has to shrink drastically to become flat. After stretching the fabric out in every direction, most of the area of the nose is going to be covered in 3D printed material, and the area around it has a lower amount of coverage. The printed material resists contraction, so when we release the fabric after printing, the nose wants to stay the same size more than the material around it, and that material squeezes in, causing the nose to pop out.”

The printer used in the studio is an Ultimaker 2 which restricts the size of the hexagons to a corner-to-corner diameter of 2 millimeters, which can be printed because of a minimum amount of material that is deposited each time the nozzle prints. An additional constraint lies in the ability of the fabric to stretch, generally only to about 1.7 times its original size in each direction. Continued exploration of materials as well as the utilization of a different 3D printer could easily push this study in new ways.

You may be asking yourself, “Sure, but why do this?” I think the first answer for these kinds of explorations is: “to see what happens.” While it is possible to extrapolate future possibilities, both artistic and functional, at this point, it’s basic research, finding out what can be done and how. It’s part of the enjoyment of any new technology, finding out what it can do without necessarily worrying about why it would do it. And it’s environments such as that created by Nervous System, and bright young minds like Fields’, that allow for this type of exploration to help us push the boundaries of possibility in fabrication.

What do you think of this news? Let us know your thoughts; join the discussion of this and other 3D printing topics at 3DPrintBoard.com or share your thoughts below. 

[Source/Images: Nervous System]

 

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