In conventional 3D printing, a nozzle scans across a stage: depositing drops of plastic, rising slightly after each pass, and building an object in a series of layers. A new "on-the-fly" prototyping system from Cornell University allows the designer to make refinements while printing is in progress.

With an innovative “WirePrint” printer, the nozzle extrudes a rope of quick-hardening plastic to create a wire frame. The structure represents the surface of the solid object described in a computer-aided design (CAD) file.

The designer can pause anywhere in the manufacturing process to test, measure, and, if necessary, make changes that will be added to the physical model still in the printer. A removable base aligned by magnets allows the operator to take the model out of the printer for modification or measurement.

The nozzle only works vertically, but the printer’s stage can be rotated to present any face of the model facing up.

As a demonstration, the researchers created a model for a toy airplane to fit into a Lego airport set.


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