A pair of MIT-trained 3D printing experts have created the anaconda of 3D prints. Hyperform, from Skylar Tibbits and Marcelo Coelho, crams 50 feet of printed material into the print volume of a $3000 Formlabs printer, which is only a few inches cubed. As Wired writes, the finished print comes out looking like a brick of uncooked ramen (we're more partial to a Borg cube). But when you unravel it, the compact object becomes a chain of tiny interlocked links, and it just keeps going, and going, and going.
The Hyperform project won an Ars Electronica grant for the Next Idea in Art and Technology. If Hyperform was only good for printing long chains, it probably wouldn't have won. What's impressive is how that chain can form 3D objects larger than the print volume it was created in. The Borg cube comes out of the printer in an extremely dense configuration which must be snapped apart. Each link in the chain has a small notch that fits into the one that follows, but these don't have to create a straight line.
Tibbits and Coelho built software to transform a CAD software into a linear line. When the pieces are snapped together, it takes on a new form. Wired writes: "Each link snaps into the next like a custom-made Lego. When completed, the original model is revealed like a jigsaw puzzle. The proof of concept product is a chandelier, an ideal choice since it’s only required to support its own weight and the links look like glass beads."
The prints were so dense, the creators broke six Formlabs 3D printers and encountered tons of bugs along the way to a successful Hyperform print. Because they were working in partnership with Formlabs, though, Hyperform was actually a stress test for the company. Bugs and issues with the software were corrected and won't be a problem for future Formlabs users.
Hyperform proves it's possible to build something larger than the print space of a 3D printer, though it won't be applicable for some situations. The prints will always look a bit like circular chain links, and they don't have the structure to support much weight. But as a proof of concept, it's really cool, and makes for some surprisingly intricate art.