Until now, 3D printing anything flexible like a blanket or a dress was left to the professionals. Fabric-like objects were technically possible, but they weren't things people could print using their own MakerBots. Nervous System, a generative design studio, is working to change that: its new, free desktop app Kinematics allows anyone with a 3D printer to create flexible products at home.
Kinematics' simulation and compression technology can take the design of an object larger than the 3D printer itself and crumple it up to a size that will make it fit in the printer, allowing it to be made in one shot, in one piece. The final product is, literally and figuratively, larger than the sum of its parts.
The process starts with the design for a 3D-printed object like a bracelet. The Kinematics app turns the design into a puzzle made of hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of triangles. The smaller the triangles, the more flexible the final piece. All the triangular puzzle pieces are then connected and the final design is compressed down to a size that will let it be printed in one continuous piece in a 3D printer.
Currently you can make flexible pieces of jewelry and smaller objects using Kinematics, but Nervous System is working to add support for more complex items, like dresses, that would be specially fit to the wearer's body using 3D scanning. That technology is further down the road, but for now, the collection of things 3D printers can make at home just got a little bigger, more flexible, and slightly more practical.