Crazy balloon shapes? 3D printing to the rescue!

3D balloon

No, this was not 3D printed, but it looks great in this article doesn't it? Credit: Balloonimals

You try and think up all the potential applications for 3D printers, but try as you might you could never dream up all the crazy things they will be used for in the future. And here’s one thing that probably would not be on your list: using a 3D printer to create uncommon balloon shapes.

The Swiss Federal Institute of Technology and Disney Research got together and created a team to look into using a 3D printer to create balloons that, when inflated, are in shapes that they designed on a 3D modeling program. They can create any shape that fits in the constraints of the physical properties of an inflated balloon (As you can imagine, flat sections and hard corners are a problem). What were some of their first balloon designs? Come on, it’s an easy guess with Disney involved. Yup, one of the shapes they created was Mickey Mouse.

Now, this 3D printing process is a little different than printing an object on your home 3D printer. The team is actually printing balloon molds, not the balloons themselves. It’s the same way that the traditional balloon manufacturing process works, but instead of the expensive and time-consuming process of creating molds the old-fashioned way, they whip them out in no time, and at little cost, on a 3D printer.

The researchers have written some sophisticated software that takes the ultimate, blown-up shape represented in the 3D modeling program design, and then reverse-engineers it back into the unstretched shape required to create that balloon shape, by modeling the way a rubber balloon stretches during inflation.

How long will it be before we see a website where a user can design a balloon online, and have a few dozen delivered to him the next day? There you go 3D entrepreneurs, can I get a commission on the idea?

The team will present their work at the Eurographics meeting in Cagliari, Italy, in May.

Fun note: in looking around for a cool image to go along with this article, I ran across an app called Balloonimals where you can create virtual inflated balloon animals by blowing into your iPhone’s microphone, along with a little shaking. Nothing to do with 3D printing, and I hope the link to their app is enough for them to forgive me for using their image.

Source: New Scientist