Sep 17, 2014 | By Alec

There is some irony in referring to 3D printing technology as a rapid prototyping tool. For despite all its wonderful uses and applications, a typical 3D printer is everything but rapid as an average-sized object can easily take hours to print. This is largely due to the fabrication methods, which create objects voxel-by-voxel and layer-by-layer. All of this is set to change, however, thanks to the very intriguing prototyping software WirePrint.

WirePrint is the brainchild of German PHD student Stefanie Mueller (developer of faBrickator software), who received invaluable help from advisors Patrick Baudisch (Hasso Plattner Institute) and François Guimbretière (Cornell University) and the students Sangha Im, Serafima Gurevich, Alexander Teibrich and Lisa Pfisterer. Their actually rapid prototyping software is set to be revealed in detail at the UIST 2014, that is to be held in Honolulu, Hawaii between the 5th and 8th of October. However, they have very kindly shared with us their conference paper already.

And this is what WirePrint is in a nutshell: this software is capable of generating and 3D printing low fidelity wireframe previews of your designs. Capable of working with just about any consumer-level 3D printer, it will print these wireframe mesh structures to scale and with incredible speed, and is therefore perfect for producing work-in-progress prototypes.

Whereas regularly printed objects will take hours to complete, WirePrint tremendously speeds up printing times – up to a factor of ten – allowing designers to quickly see the practical results of their minute changes or additions. One of their prototypes – a bottle – was printed in 14 minutes, while this would take about two hours with regular printing software.

How do they achieve this, you ask? The secret is in efficient instructions for the printing head, and in printing a wireframe mesh of your design, rather than a solid structure. As explained in the conference paper:

To maximize the speed-up, we instruct 3D printers to extrude filament not layer-by-layer, but directly in 3D-space, allowing them to create the edges of the wireframe model directly one stroke at a time. This allows us to achieve speed-ups of up to a factor of 10 compared to traditional layer-based printing.

While 3D printing is always done as slow hi-fidelity manufacturing, the team behind WirePrint is effectively arguing for low-fidelity printing techniques. They are giving priority to speed, rather than functionality or appearance. 'This trade-off pays off in the early phases of design because it encourages the quick exploration of several versions before committing further resources, eventually leading to a better design.'

Furthermore, their software is capable of easily transforming a regular, solid design STL file into a wire mesh structure. As Mueller explained in her paper,

WirePrint converts a 3D object into a wireframe representation by (1) slicing the 3D model along its vertical axis into horizontal slices and (2) extracting the contours. It then (3) fills the space between slices with a zigzag pattern. […]Unlike traditional 3D printers that stack filament on filament, WirePrint creates its layers by moving the print head up and down repeatedly.

The software is also capable of adjusting its design to compensate for the mechanical limitations of the printhead and optimize its speed.

But there are more options included in this software. Want to prototype some specific details, like a logo or a face? WirePrint also includes the option of printing part of the structure as a mesh, while incorporating some fully printed, solid surfaces as well. The picture below, showing a bunny's facial details, excellently illustrates this.

All this makes this software a very useful tool for both beginning and experienced 3D printing enthusiasts. The wireframe mesh can best be printed with materials that quickly transition from compliant to solid, making ABS more suitable than PLA material. 'The reason is that ABS has a smaller temperature range, in which it changes its viscosity from compliant to solid (230–250° C) than PLA (180–250° C).'

But of course, as this involves a wireframe structure rather than a solid one, it will use up far less material than a regularly printed prototype. WirePrint will thus not only save you a lot of time, but will also make prototyping a far less costly experience.

Different ways of printing a sphere as a wireframe. The left mesh is most sturdy since all vertical lines are aligned. The right mesh prints fastest but is less sturdy.

Moreover, these directly extruded wireframe models can be printed on standard FDM 3D printers, though the software itself was made and improved upon using printers like PrintrBot and the Kossel Mini. 'Users only need to install the WirePrint software, making our approach applicable to many 3D printers already in use today.' The software is particularly well suited for printers utilizing a delta design – where the printhead is attached to six vertically actuated arms – rather than the traditional Cartesian design. However, even users employing for those traditional xyz-printers will greatly benefit from the fast printing times.

A selection of objects 3D printed using WirePrint

To be fair, they did slightly modify their FDM printers to achieve these wonderful effects. For instance, they added a 0.7 mm extrusion head and two air jets for additional cooling. However, they assure us in their conference paper that these additions to your printer are no necessity. Mueller argues that WirePrint can still achieve very efficient print times when you simply rely on the regular cooling fan or insert additional pauses to allow the material to solidify.

All these printing options – as well as the compatibility with most consumer-level printers – makes the WirePrint an extremely interesting addition to any printing enthusiast's software arsenal. If as efficient as argued, it could really be a crucial step in making 3D printing a more efficient and less costly activity. Be sure to keep an eye out for its release! Check out their website here.

Also watch this comprehensive video on WirePrint:


Posted in 3D Software

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Bluebie wrote at 7/26/2015 11:07:22 AM:

@Bogdan Most FDM printed objects are already printed at an infill of only about 10% - they are nearly entirely hollow - and yet it takes many many hours to print layer by layer, when the layers are as small as 0.1mm or 0.2mm high. When designing objects, especially ones which will be hand held or need to fit as part of a bigger whole, having an accurate sense of real world scale and fit is incredibly important. WirePrint will potentially be a really fast and eco friendly way to very quickly have something you can hold and turn and get a sense of, imagine using, and think about refinements to the basic shape before moving on to details. I'm very excited to use it when a public implementation becomes available. Personally I mainly use my printer for original designs, split about half between useful household objects, and original sculptural art pieces and costume ornaments. You can imagine for my uses, I might WirePrint a pair of cat ears, and see both how the size looks on a live models head, and check the base of the ears fits their head shape well, before committing to detailing the object and much slower solid prints. That could potentially save me a day or two in the iterative cycle of designing a new object, and would make collaboration a lot easier as my models and co-designers and I wouldn't need to wait five hours to get a test print to see that we need to change the base ever so slightly to fit a model's head better.

Jacky wrote at 11/29/2014 2:34:47 AM:

As cool as this project is. There are no stats on the use case or release date. How many models does this software work for ? Is this another gymic from the academia where it works only for few cases. Yet another project that will be sink into the black hole called academia.

JayC wrote at 10/8/2014 11:55:25 PM:

It's a mini Kossel delta printer.

Paul E wrote at 9/22/2014 2:40:04 AM:

Does anyone know what make of 3D printer is in the video?

Marcelo RC wrote at 9/20/2014 6:28:20 AM:

Congrats! I also agree there is a great idea here for more effective and faster support structures

Hans Fouche wrote at 9/18/2014 6:56:44 AM:

This is the best I have seen in a long time.....!!!

Bogdan wrote at 9/18/2014 2:33:53 AM:

This seems like a good enough idea, but the quality of the wireframe is really lacking in details ... I wonder what most of people use their 3d printers for ? In all the adds, you see some printed Eiffel Towers, Some Statues and some vases . It this what most people use 3d printers for ? I think most people use 3d printer versatility to print prototypes that they design or take from internet, and in this case I don't know how this wireframe would help. More than this, if you want to have only an idea on what your a making, why not print with like 5% infill ? That would generate kind of like a wireframe.

ivan crespo wrote at 9/18/2014 1:55:44 AM:

is there any release date? A side from the listed benefits. that are great . Wonderfull as architecture exploration. also

Kris wrote at 9/17/2014 3:52:20 PM:

I hope it is open source! I would love to see this process integrated with various host software and could be toggled and used to generate support material.

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