The Teddy Bear Gets a Tech Makeover

For a nerd like me, 3D printers are possibly the coolest pieces of technology on the planet. If you can dream it (and design it in a 3D modeling program), you can make it. But regular 3D printers make hard plastic models, not anything too soft, malleable, or (to be honest) cute. Here is where the new 3D Felting Printer and its felted teddy bears come in.

Though a 3D model is still required, the 3D Felting Printer can create soft felt objects to whatever specifications are needed. The machine, created and researched by Carnegie Mellon University and Disney Research Pittsburgh, looks a lot like an embroidery machine but works like a normal 3D printer. 3D printers work in layers, melting rods of filament onto the layer underneath it. The only difference in the 3D Felting Printer is that the filament is replaced by wool or wool-blend yarn and instead of being melted to the previous layer, a felting needle tangles the fibers together. Since yarn is much bigger than the hard filament, the objects are not as detailed as their solid counterparts. They are also pretty easy to pull apart, since it is not very tightly felted, so a mesh backing has to be printed on for more stability.

With this breakthrough, the opportunities for 3D manufacturing grow exponentially. The creators say that clothing and soft pieces of robots can now be created from the machine. There are also plans to use these felted pieces in conjunction with plastic printed pieces to make all sorts of things, like soft robot parts. The possibilities could potentially be endless. A new generation of felting can start, bringing with it new ideas, applications, and methods. Who knows what complex and fascinating piece can be made with the 3D Felting Printer. Me? I’d rather stick with the teddy bear.

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