An industrial knitting machine is not easy to program to knit a certain type of item. It is a very complex process and not commonly used to create one-off items. That might be subject to change as a new software will be able to make the knitting machines behave like 3D printers.
The software was developed by a team from Carnegie Mellon University led by assistant professor James McCann. The program takes computer models of 3D objects in the form of meshes and automatically converts them into stitch-by-stitch instructions for the stitching machines to follow. This allows computer-controlled knitting machines to produce items on demand.
The software is designed by keeping the widely used V-bed knitting machines in mind. These machines use loops of yarn which are manipulated by parallel beds of needles angled towards one another in an inverted V. The software is aware of the limitations of the machines and factors them into the instructions, which minimizes the chances of the yarn breaking or getting jammed.
The system is in the early phases and can only produce items with smooth surfaces and can’t do the patterned stitching. The compatibility of the software is also limited for now and does not work with all the makes and models of the machines. However, the team is working on that and aims to ultimately create a software that will allow any knitting machine to produce custom items for individual customers.
“Knitting machines could become as easy to use as 3D printers,” says McCann. We will have to wait till the software becomes common before we can expect to see it in action for ourselves.