Is Desktop Knitting the New 3D Printing?
By Andrew Hasara
Desktop manufacturing is one of the most disruptive technologies to come along. The skill required to mill by CNC, cut with a laser cutter, or build up plastic or metal parts with a 3D printer is much lower than the skill required to make these items by hand. With a few hours of familiarization, you can produce a part with the same quality as one made by a person with years of training and experience. This is because the CAM (Computer Aided Manufacture) module takes our 2 or 3 dimensional drawing and converts it into the expert moves to make the part. This allows for on demand manufacturing and a rapid time to develop your product.
However, despite the fact that the textile industry was one of the first to automate, and that they use large general purpose machines to knit various forms of fabric, there is no general path to go from a 3D model to an manufactured item. CAM modules take the shapes we give it and compile it into a set of low level instruction for our machines to follow, usually a form of “G-Code” that is independent of the machines origin. The Probotics V90 Fireball speaks similar “G-Code” to the G.Wieke laser cutter or Rostok Max 3D printer. But there is no common compiler for fabrics.
Sorry, there USED to be no common compiler.
The bright folks at Disney Research have analyzed the way the machine knitting process works, and have found a way to define the common movements of the knitting machines and the basic elements of knit shapes. They have combined this into a compiler, so that you can go from a 3D model, to a knit item automatically, without having to program each knitting machine at the low level to make each new part or creation. In other words, on demand knitting has arrived!
You may be asking yourself, “Why do I care? It has nothing to do with what I make.” The answer is that it may well, and soon. Textiles are a foundational technology: many other manufacturing techniques are built on textiles. From composite materials like fiberglass and carbon fiber, to smart clothes and soft robotics, this technology will be everywhere. And imagine what it would be like to design your own T- Shirt that has the design knit into the fabric instead of screen printed or embroidered.