Balancing Act

Disney Research Creates 3D Prints with Embedded Ball Bearings

Embedded Ball Bearings

3D printing could on a whole new dimension — gravity — thanks to concealed embedded ball bearings developed by Disney Research.

The enterprising boffins at Disney Research have developed an intriguing new 3D printing technique, where objects are fabricated with embedded ball bearings. This technique allows designers to create models which can precariously balance in unusual ways.

The balls are made from metal, and encased in capsules inside the object. Dubbed “Movable Masses” in a research paper, the placement of the bearings are determined during the CAD software stage. The design then allows for the weight to shift and change an object’s center of gravity.

To balance a model in a particular way, designers need to enter specific guidelines into the software. These include how the object needs to be positioned. Once the targets are in place, the system will work out the size and placement of the capsules as well as how many are needed. 

During fabrication, the printer has to be paused so the ball bearings can be added. After the print is finished, the object should be able to hang, float or stand as it was meant to. Disney offered some interesting uses for the ball bearing which you can check out below:

Embedded Ball Bearings in Action

As proof of concept, Disney Research uses a break-dancing teddy bear to show six different balancing positions. This option is possible using just two capsules.

Embedded Ball Bearings

Elsewhere, a model of a dolphin is used to show how a print can float in water. As you can see, when suspended from a string by its fin, the dolphin hangs with its nose down. When placed directly in the water, it will float facing upwards.

Embedded Ball Bearings

Next, we have a model of a gnome holding a log. In combination with a ball bearing embedded in the log and an articulated joint at the hip, the model will stand upright when leaning to the left, but tip over when leaning to the right. This is a particularly fun option as the ball and cavity are both hidden, making the model behave unpredictably.

Embedded Ball Bearings

The team at Disney Research says they’re now investigating expanding the concept to fluids and sand. They’re not the first to explore this area, however; check out these DIY 3D printing experiments with liquid, sand and metal. Interesting balancing properties can make 3D printing even more fun for smaller projects.

Source: Disney Research