3D printers may have failed as a home appliance, but researchers at the Hasso-Plattner-Institut aren’t ready to give up on them just yet. Last year they successfully 3D-printed a working door handle without any moving parts, and this year they’re following it up with a 3D-printed, PIN-protected door lock.

The 3D-printed door handle worked by taking advantage of 3D-printing’s ability to churn out incredibly complex, although completely static, objects. By creating the door handle’s structure as a grid of cells that could collapse in pre-defined directions when pressure was applied, turning the plastic door handle resulted in the latch retracting, without requiring a single moving part to be assembled once printing was complete.

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Building a working PIN-protected lock using just a 3D printer was a little more complicated, but given the world’s first computers were purely mechanical creations, it turns out you don’t need electronics and circuits to secure a door.

The secret to the 3D-printed lock’s functionality is a series of plastic bistable springs which can be resting in one of two different positions—as opposed to a metal coiled spring that always wants to expand. Pressing the correct sequence of buttons on the outside of the lock triggers specific springs inside it, which results in a larger chain reaction occurring when someone tries to unlock the door—if they’ve entered the correct PIN.

Like with last year’s 3D-printed door handle, as clever as this locking mechanism is, no one is going to want to secure their homes with a plastic lock that can be shattered with little more than a gentle tug on the door handle. This research, however, demonstrates that while the average home doesn’t need a 3D printer, the technology still has fantastic potential when it comes to manufacturing more than just trinkets.

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Through clever engineering, entire machines can be created without the need for assembly after the printer has completed its work. And one day, 3D printers might just might be a good enough substitute for Star Trek’s long-awaited replicators.

[Hasso-Plattner-Institut]