Programmable Filament: Multicolor & Multimaterial 3D Printing with No Hardware Upgrades

Most of us still get excited about the opportunity to cast aside single-color fused filament fabrication (FFF) and explore the potential of multi-colored, multi-material printing, typically reserved for higher end binder jet and inkjet technologies. While historically a more challenging and complex technology, multi-color printing often allows the user more opportunities with add-on hardware.
As always, accessibility and affordability are what really allow new hardware, software, and materials to catch on. With this in mind, a research team from the Computer Science and Engineering Department at Texas A&M University (working also with researchers from Japan) has developed an interactive system for 3D printing with multiple colors and multiple materials using a single printhead—and without any hardware updates necessary.
Programmable Filament works with existing 3D printers, splicing multiple filament segments into a single thread. The process begins by simply printing a new strand of filament made up of varying existing strands of filaments. This new multicolored, multi-material wire of filament can then be used to print a multicolored, multi-material object. The technique is meant to work with less expensive FDM single-nozzle 3D printers, and is “built upon computational analysis and experiments,” as outlined in “ Programmable Filament: Printed Filaments for Multi-material 3D Printing .”

Programmable Filament is a novel 3D printing technique that enables users to 3D print an object with multiple materials using an FDM printer without any hardware modification. (From left to right) First, users generate a filament that contains multiple materials, to feed into the extruder, then 3D print an object in full color.

While many may find this reminiscent of the Palette technology with open-source software released by Mosaic Manufacturing in 2018, here the researchers explained that they were inspired by DasMia , an Instructables user innovating with a thin, wire-like filament:
“… we expand on the concept to fabricate a programmable filament connecting several segments of various materials into a single filament based on the user’s specifications (referred to as printed filament). We demonstrate that the printed filament can be used in the same way as a conventional filament, i.e., extruded through a standard nozzle, requiring no hardware modification.”
While DasMia focused on producing a pretty awesome-looking rainbow filament and Mosaic offers a variety of ways for users to innovate after upgrading their systems and relying on Canvas Hub for support , Programmable Filament is meant to streamline previous challenges found in dual printing, cutting down on shifting and mixing of colors and materials between segments. Their goal is also to present more options to users, overriding some of the limiting factors of previous technology and methods. This also reverses more common...