Cornell University researchers created a 3D printer that allows designers and engineers to “print on the fly.”

The interactive prototyping system allows designers to pause anytime to test, measure and, if necessary, make changes on the actual model they are printing.

Researchers describe it as going from “human-computer interaction to human-machine interaction."

The system is an improved version of the “WirePrint” 3D printer, where quick-hardening plastic can create a wire frame that represents the surface of the solid object described in a computer-aided design (CAD) file. It attempts to speed up prototyping by creating a model of the shape of an object, instead of printing the entire solid.

The On-the-Fly-Print system builds on WirePrint’s idea by allowing users to make refinements while printing is actually in progress. The printer's stage can be rotated in any direction, so that any surface of the printed object can be accessed, which allows the designer to put in additional elements. The model can also be cut to show a cross-section of parts.

The printer nozzle is long enough to reach through the wire mesh to make changes inside. The base is also detachable so the designer can remove the model from the printer to measure or test parts, and then put it back to resume printing.

It uses a software plug-in to the popular CAD program where users can design and edit the model…well, on the fly.

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