In March 2013 MIT has unveiled plan to 3D print a pavilion inspired by the technique that silkworms use to build their cocoons. Long before human creates 3D printers, silkworms had been 3D-printing their own houses for ages. Now researchers at the MIT Media Lab have figured out how to let the silkworms to silk print predefined areas.
This initiative is being led by Neri Oxman of MIT’s Mediated Matter. The project explores the design and fabrication potential of silk fibersâ€”inspired by silkworm cocoonsâ€”for the construction of woven habitats.
The primary structure was created of 26 polygonal panels made of silk threads laid down by a CNC (Computer-Numerically Controlled) machine. Inspired by the observation of how silkworms create 3D cocoons using a silk thread, the overall geometry of the pavilion was created using an algorithm that assigns a single continuous thread across patches providing various degrees of density.
So instead of print head, a swarm of 6,500 silkworms was positioned at the bottom rim of the scaffold spinning flat non-woven silk patches as they locally reinforced the gaps across CNC-deposited silk fibers.
The worms didn’t work evenly – affected by spatial and environmental conditions including geometrical density as well as variation in natural light and heat – researchers found that the silkworms like to “work” in darker and denser areas.
Following their pupation stage the silkworms were removed. Resulting moths can produce 1.5 million eggs with the potential of constructing up to 250 additional pavilions.
This impressive biological silkworm 3D printer explores a novel approach to the design and fabrication of silk-based building skins by controlling the mechanical and physical properties of spatial structures inherent in their microstructures using multi-axes fabrication.
“It explores a novel approach to the design and fabrication of silk-based building skins by controlling the mechanical and physical properties of spatial structures inherent in their microstructures using multi-axes fabrication. The method offers construction without assembly such that material properties vary locally to accommodate for structural and environmental requirements. This approach stands in contrast to functional assemblies and kinetically actuated facades which require a great deal of energy to operate, and are typically maintained by global control.” Writes Oxman. “Such material architectures could simultaneously bear structural load, change their transparency so as to control light levels within a spatial compartment (building or vehicle), and open and close embedded pores so as to ventilate a space.”