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Israeli researchers develop algorithm for self-assembling 3D printed objects

It’s been awhile since we’ve heard any news centered around self-assembling 3D prints - particularly from Skyler Tibbits and the impressive work being done at MIT's Self-Assembly - but just because we haven’t heard much doesn’t mean that developments aren’t quietly happening.  

In a recent study that was printed in the journal Scientific Reports, a research team led by Dr Ido Bachelet from the Institute for Nanotechnology and Advanced Materials at Bar-Ilan University in Israel, used an algorithm from the Computational Geometry Algorithm Library (CGAL) as part of a design that allowed 18 tetrahedral bricks to self-assemble into a larger 3D cylinder.

The findings showed that high frequency vibrations can be used to aide bricks in self-assembling into a larger 3D object - a phenomenon that could dramatically change the future of consumer product assemblies.  

“Assembly rules are encoded by topographic cues imprinted on brick faces while attraction between bricks is provided by embedded magnets,” explained the researchers in their paper. “The bricks can then be mixed in a container and agitated, leading to properly assembled objects at high yields and zero errors.”

To gain a better understanding of what causes naturally-occurring self-assembly, architects, engineers and scientists have actively been studying self-assembling biological processes including those involving proteins, viruses, living cells and multicellular organisms.  The results have led to a biomimicry-based approach towards developing the 3D printed designs - which are based on mathematical structures and patterns.  

“Improved designs inspired by our system could lead to successful implementation of self-assembly at the macro-scale, allowing rapid, on-demand fabrication of objects without the need for assembly lines,” the researchers added.  

Unsurprisingly, the developments in self-assembling structures has continued to impress a range of professionals ranging from the science and biology fields to architecture and industry - industries that could be dramatically changed in the future with these developments.

“The algorithm was inspired by the molecular assembly of DNA,” said Hamza Bendemra, a Research Engineer at the Australian National University, who was not involved in the study but called the results “remarkable”.  

“In the study, a two-brick assembly took less than a minute to self-assemble. However, an 18-piece assembly required over two hours to perform the same feat,” he said.  

“The components are subject to high vibrations and collide over and over again until they fit in the right combination. It would be a challenge to implement such a method with materials with low strength and poor impact tolerance without causing damage.”



The next logical step for the technology is to refine how the parts stay in place so that it can be used for assembling reliable and functional products rather than demonstrative models.  Among others who see potential in the self-assembling products include Bernard Meade, Head of Research Compute Services at the University of Melbourne.  

“Ordering a smartphone with specific components, automatically assembled and shrink-wrapped with a protective coating, might take only a few minutes –- and no longer require thousands of phones to be pre-made,” he explains.  

“Perhaps furniture scale production might be possible in future – imagine flatpack IKEA – but I think it would be hard to get to something the size of a house.”

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