Despite being around for over two decades, the 3D printer hasn't really changed all that much. You still have an extruder that moves in straight lines across a bed to create a 3D printed object from the bottom up. What would happen then if we turned that concept on its head with a 3D printer that can print on any surface in any direction?
Researchers at the TU Delft Robotics Institute have partnered with Oce Technologies to create a new kind of 3D printer that's unlike anything we've ever seen before. The two equipped a robotic arm with a high-end extruder to create a 3D printer that can print on just about any surface. It can print objects on bent surfaces, or even add onto currently existing objects.
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So, what kind of applications could this have? One obvious application is the restoration of complex objects. For example, the above 3D printer could be used to restore the hull of a boat. It could also be used in construction. The current idea behind 3D printed housing is to lay concrete in straight lines. With a 3D printer like this, one could design far out architectural designs that just aren't possible through normal construction.
The above examples won't come to fruition anytime soon though as TU Delft's 3D printer is still just a prototype. In fact, it can only lay a single layer at this time. As the technology progresses, however, we'll hopefully soon see robotic arms printing in all kinds of directions.[h/t: 3ders] [Image: TU Delft/YouTube]