Science

Software turns knitting machines into 3D printers

Software turns knitting machin...
A knitted rabbit, created using the technology
A knitted rabbit, created using the technology
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James McCann, Lea Albaugh and Vidya Narayanan watch a knitting machine work on a 3D shape
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James McCann, Lea Albaugh and Vidya Narayanan watch a knitting machine work on a 3D shape
A knitted rabbit, created using the technology
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A knitted rabbit, created using the technology

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.

James McCann, Lea Albaugh and Vidya Narayanan watch a knitting machine work on a 3D shape
James McCann, Lea Albaugh and Vidya Narayanan watch a knitting machine work on a 3D shape

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.

Source: Carnegie Mellon University

3 comments
Trylon
Wonder if this could be used with structural fibers like Kevlar, Spectra, carbon or glass fiber. Weave complex shapes with resin-impregnated fiber then cure to produce objects much stronger than 3D-printed plastic, although not as strong as products made with filament winding.
Racqia Dvorak
I want to understand how this works, I really do, but there is no real discussion of the process and the pictures don't help, either.
Douglas Bennett Rogers
This could be a boon for composite tubing connectors, as the two main methods, suitcase mold and cut, glue, and wrap require a lot of hand work.