I’m convinced that the future of manufacturing will lie in digital materials and rapid assembly (or VoxelFab as I’m completely self-servingly calling it from time to time). The work of Jon Hiller and Hod Lipson of Cornell inspired me to create this blog and I currently believe that they are well on their way to showing us a glimpse of the future of manufacturing . A good overview is this concept video of theirs showing you how a rapid assembler will work.
On the one hand you will have Voxels, the building blocks for making things. A rapid assembler will select and organize these Voxels and build them layer by layer into an object. Because you can select different Voxels you can give your object lots of different material properties, even properties that have been impossible. Voxels will then be true digital materials.
You could for example make a plastic casing that is weakly magnetic only in certain areas, has different softness and hardness throughout is water permeable only when upside down. Or even develop completely new properties. Hod & Jon have a page outlining their research here and it mentions creating materials with a negative Poisson ratio. This would mean making an elastic material that widens as it stretches.
Since a Voxel acts as a basic building block for fabrication billions can be made in series and so the costs of the build material can be kept low while making varieties possible. Like basic ingredients to a recipe the variety will lie in the unique combinations of these blocks. Because the Voxels have predefined accurate measurements and because they are designed to align the overall accuracy of the process is very high and scalable. Hod & Jon use the example of a child who might not be very accurate but whose creations are accurate because she is constructing using LEGO bricks.
Currently their experiments have even shown that they can build simple objects from the Voxels. They can then dissolve the binder that holds the Voxels together and then re-use them.
This technology has so much promise that I’m compelled to follow its every move and I hope you do to!