At first glance, knitting and 3D printing may seem to be unrelated. One is a traditional craft while the other is modern technology. Dig a little deeper and you’ll find similarities in the materials used, as well as the approach taken to create objects.
How does knitting work?
In its most basic form, knitting creates fabric by looping single yarns around each other to create stitches. The knitter arranges these stitches into a pattern and then joins them together using a needle to create a piece of fabric. Depending on the pattern being followed and the color of the wool being used, a near-infinite number of designs can be made.
How does 3D printing compare to knitting?
The same process is used in 3D printing to build objects. A 3D printer moves a “needle” on the end of the printhead across the surface of the “fabric” (the powder bed or resin bath) to create loops in the layer of powder or resin. These loops are arranged into a pattern that makes up an object and are joined together with support structures as needed during the printing process.
As in knitting, by following different designs or using different materials a vast range of products or components can be printed without the need for expensive tools; and as the process being used is called additive manufacturing, there is very little waste produced.
Knitting and 3D printing both use polymers
Knitting uses wool, which is a naturally occurring polymer, whereas 3D printing uses synthetic or man-made polymers.
Realistically, this is as far as we can take this metaphor, as polymers enable so many more manufacturing processes than a comparison to knitting can convey.
What are polymers?
Polymers are one of the most abundant and useful substances on the planet. They make up everyday objects such as plastic bags, bottles, furniture, and shoes, and are used to create food packaging, and to make a wide range of household products such as textiles, solvents, paints, and adhesives. Polymers are made by combining two or more monomers, as explained by polychemistry.com.
The chemical bonds between each monomer unit mean that polymers have some very useful properties, such as being able to bend or stretch while still retaining their shape. As well as being strong, polymers are also easy to mold into various shapes, as long as the chemical composition of the polymer is maintained.
Which industries use polymers?
Polymers can be found in a variety of industries. In the aerospace industry polymers are used to offset the weight of a plane by molding them into fuel tanks and parts of the fuselage. In the medical industry, they’re used to make prosthetic limbs, artificial joints, and heart valves to replace those damaged by disease or injury.
In computing, polymers are used to insulate computer chips and create rigid circuit boards. They are also used to create the popular tablets, mobile phones, and LCD screens we use every day.
Very few industries escape working with polymers in some shape or form. The ability of polymers to be molded into any shape makes it beneficial for industries that produce large numbers of products. It is likely that our reliance on polymers is only going to increase.