Human-Computer Interaction Institute
School of Computer Science, Carnegie Mellon University


Digital Fabrication Techniques for
3D Printing with Everyday Materials

Michael L. Rivera

October 2021

Ph.D. Thesis


Keywords: Human-Computer Interaction, Personal Fabrication, Digital Fabrication, 3D Printing, Electrospinning, Textiles, Hydrogels, Environmental Sustainability, Biodegradable Materials, Spent Coffee Grounds

The recent proliferation of low-cost digital fabrication machines has promised a future of personal fabrication, where individuals have an unprecedented ability to design and produce their own custom physical objects. 3D printing, in particular, has emerged as one of the most promising technologies. The technology enables a wide range of objects to be produced from digital designs. However, most consumer 3D printing processes can only produce objects that are made of a single material, which is typically rigid plastic. In contrast, if we examine the world around us, nearly every object that we interact with daily (e.g., clothes, electronics), is made of a combination of many different types of material. These materials may be hard, soft, conductive, flexible, and even absorbent to meet different structural, functional and aesthetic needs.

Within the context of 3D printing (and more generally digital fabrication), "materials" usually refer to engineering materials–raw bulk materials like plastics that can be shaped in construction or manufacturing for a particular engineering purpose. In this dissertation, we investigate the use of materials with which we generally have interactions (e.g., the textiles that we wear daily), those that we can readily obtain (e.g., in nature) and those that we can make in a kitchen at home as inputs and outputs for digital fabrication. These so-called everyday materials extend the capabilities of 3D printing for personal fabrication, and offer new design possibilities with and beyond rigid plastic.

To this end, this dissertation introduces (1) digital fabrication techniques for embedding, creating, and controlling everyday materials with a consumer-grade 3D printing process; and (2) low-cost accessible material formulations, printer modifications (open-source parts, electronic circuits, etc.), and software that extend the material capabilities of current 3D printing set-ups. For each technique, a series of proof-of-concept objects and applications is presented to demonstrate a broadened design space for personal fabrication. This dissertation concludes with a discussion of digital fabrication techniques with everyday materials, and opportunities to lower design barriers, create new design possibilities, and tackle forthcoming challenges with growing access to digital fabrication technologies.

168 pages

Thesis Committee:
Scott E. Hudson (Chair)
Lining Yao
Jeffrey P. Bigham
Stephanie Mueller (Massachusetts Institute of Technology)

Jodi Forlizzi, Head, Human-Computer Interaction Institute
Martial Hebert, Dean, School of Computer Science

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