3-D printing can theoretically build anything you can imagine. Theoretically. But when designers at Pensa were prototyping a stylish chair with spindly legs, they discovered a problem: Since the printing was stacked in thousands of tiny layers, these wiry legs had no real structural support. So they’d break again and again.
In response, they built a solution called the DIWire Bender, which went live on Kickstarter today. The device sits on your desktop just like an inkjet printer, where it can bend wiring, up to ⅛ steel, into extremely precise 2-D shapes. When all this bending is done, the user can clip it together and solder or weld it tight. The system essentially allows for rapid prototyping with metal, and it can handle projects from delicate jewelry to tooth-tight braces to giant parade floats. When embedded into a work surface (an optional hack), the DIWire’s output is only limited by the length of your wire.
Interestingly enough, the DIWire was originally offered as an open-source project when Pensa detected strong interest within the maker community. So Pensa, thinking it would be too difficult to monetize anyway, put all of their project files online, crafting an Instructables and even cutting a video teaching people to make their own DIWire.
"Out of the hundreds of thousands of people who saw the project, thousands gave us feedback, and hundreds said they wanted to make it," explains Pensa founder Marco Perry. "But only one guy actually made one."
In other words, people were incredibly enthusiastic about the DIWire until they were enlisted to build it. Even still, Pensa found this feedback handy. They essentially proved that there was an interested market if they could deliver a full product. So, in part to make money, and in part to demonstrated the design and engineering chops of their consultancy firm, Pensa developed the version you see here, capable of all of the consumer conveniences you’d expect, from auto-adjusting itself for various wire diameters, to being bundled with super streamlined software that makes bending as simple as clicking "print."
That said, once a user has printed all of their pieces, there’s still a bit of work to be done. Those wires have to be connected into a wireframe. In turn, they’ve devised a series of special clips—one made specifically for 90-degree joints, another for flush edge-to-edge hinges—in hopes that final products can be as accurate as the machined wiring.
"One thing we’re eventually going to be developing is a way to automatically mark where the wires cross or connect," Perry reveals. "We have a method for doing it, but we couldn’t get it in v1.0."
Another feature that was cut between fabricated hack and commercial product was the level of 3-D in this 3-D printer. The original DIWire could actually bend a wire into virtually any 3-D shape you could imagine. The new one only works within 2-D. But it was a compromise made for usability: As soon as someone printed a giant spiral, they’d need to consider all sorts of ancillary factors out of Pensa’s control, like did their workspace have the clearance in all of the X, Y, Z vectors.
But Pensa is comfortable with the compromise because, in sharing the design with the community so early, they’ve had enough feedback to know what their target market will need. And in its v1.0 launch form, the DIWire will still be a godsend for an incredibly diverse market: designers in need of solid rapid prototypes, small businesses that do low-scale parts manufacturing, set designers, engineers, Etsyers, students, architects, roboticists, and dentists.
The DIWire Bender starts at $3,000.