MIT Researchers Come Up with New Methods to Simplify 3D Printing

By Ed Silverstein July 25, 2013

Researchers at MIT presented findings at the SIGGRAPH computer graphics conference in California, Thursday, in which they explained new approaches to simplify and streamline 3D printing.

With existing technology, hardware can “reproduce complex, multi-material objects,” but software “is cumbersome, slow and difficult to use, and needs to improve substantially if 3D technology is to become more mainstream,” the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab (CSAIL) explained in a recent statement.

“Our goal is to make 3D printing much easier and less computationally complex,” MIT professor Wojciech Matusik, a leader of the Computer Graphics Group at CSAIL, said. “Ours is the first work that unifies design, development and implementation into one seamless process, making it possible to easily translate an object from a set of specifications into a fully operational 3D print.”

Currently, software has to provide a very high-resolution model of an object to be printed. It must include detailed information to make “complex surfaces containing bumps, color gradations and other intricacies,” the statement said. “Such models often amount to petabytes of data, which current programs have difficulty processing and storing.”

Now, researchers have come up with OpenFab, which they describe as “programmable pipeline architecture.”

The inspiration for OpenFab is RenderMan, which is a piece of software used to design computer-generated images in movies. OpenFab uses what the researchers call “fablets,” which are “programs written in a new programming language that allow users to modify the look and feel of an object easily and efficiently,” the MIT researchers explained. They can provide for “intricate surface details and the composition of a 3D object.”

“Our software pipeline makes it easier to design and print new materials and to continuously vary the properties of the object you are designing,” Kiril Vidimce, a PhD student at MIT, said. “In traditional manufacturing most objects are composed of multiple parts made out of the same material. With OpenFab, the user can change the material consistency of an object, for example designing the object to transition from stiff at one end to flexible and compressible at the other end.”

OpenFab is also more efficient. Data about the design of the object is “computed on demand and sent to the printer as it becomes available, with little start-up delay,” researchers explained.

They claimed to have made an insect embedded in amber, a marble table and even a squishy teddy bear using the new method.

In addition, the new method doesn’t require exact design specifications or the testing of all possible combinations. Instead, it uses Spec2Fab, which features a reducer tree, which can divide the object “into more manageable chunks” and then determines “the material composition of an object.”

“Spec2Fab is a small but powerful toolbox for building algorithms that can produce an endless array of complex, printable objects,” Desai Chen, a PhD student at MIT, added.

The two papers are titled: “OpenFab: A Programmable Pipeline for Multi-Material Fabrication,” and “Spec2Fab: A Reducer-Tuner Model for Translating Specifications to 3D Prints.”

Edited by Blaise McNamee

TechZone360 Contributor

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