When we talk about the usefulness of 3D printers, we’re usually talking about how they can be used to fabricate parts. 3D printers have made it possible to design a part and have a prototype in your hands all in the same day — even the same hour for small parts. It’s not an overstatement to say that they’ve revolutionized research and development. But, we rarely consider what they might be used for outside of fabrication. That’s what makes these novel 3D printer-actuated designs so interesting.
In their PrintMotion paper, Shohei Katakura and Keita Watanabe from Meiji University in Tokyo, Japan introduce objects that can be 3D-printed and then actuated on that same 3D printer. The concept almost seems obvious in retrospect — 3D printers are, after all, essentially just robots designed for the sole purpose of fabrication. PrintMotion just utilizes the printer’s underlying linear motion systems to move 3D-printed mechanisms attached to the extruder carriage.
Katakura and Watanabe illustrate the concept with a handful of different designs. One is a cute little snail with a head that pivots like a ball joint inside its body. On the tail end there is an arm that connects to the 3D printer’s extruder carriage. Using simple G-code commands, they can animate the movement of the snail’s head. Two designs, a music box and a coffee bean grinder, are operated when the 3D printer simply rotates the cranks. While these may not be particularly practical, PrintMotion does raise the question of what you can do with your 3D printer when it’s not printing.