Ordinarily, programming an industrial knitting machine to knit a certain type of item is quite a complex process. As a result, they're generally not used to create one-offs. That could change, though, thanks to new software that tells them how to knit custom 3D objects.

The program was developed by a Carnegie Mellon University team led by assistant professor James McCann. Basically, it takes computer models of three-dimensional objects (in the form of 3D meshes), and automatically converts them into stitch-by-stitch instructions that allow computer-controlled knitting machines to produce those objects on demand.

More specifically, the software is designed to work with widely-used V-bed knitting machines, in which loops of yarn are manipulated by parallel beds of needles that are angled toward one another in an inverted V. The limitations of these machines are taken into account by the program, resulting in instructions that minimize the chances of the yarn breaking or getting jammed.

Currently, the system is only capable of producing items with smooth surfaces, as opposed to ones with patterned stitching. Additionally, the software isn't yet compatible with all makes and models of machines.

Ultimately, though, it is hoped that the technology could allow knitting machines to easily produce custom items such as gloves or sweaters that are designed to fit individual customers.

"Knitting machines could become as easy to use as 3D printers," says McCann.

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