Oct. 10, 2014 | By Alec

While 3D printing technology has given us an unprecedented freedom in designing and creating new objects, it is still mostly suited for printing sculptures and miniatures that need little extra work. Designing something interactive or electronic is often accompanied by a host of new and complicated steps, like splitting it up into different parts and assembling these around an electronic base, all of which adds more steps where things can go wrong.

What if there was an easier way to add an electronic or interactive dimension to your creations? Well, there is: PipeDream. Developed by researchers of scientific designing company Autodesk Research, it consists of various algorithms and software that will allow you to easily insert a series of pipes in your 3D printed creations that can house electronics.

The examples shown above, of the actually working radio and the penholder that includes a sensor, illustrate this perfectly. Both have been built in Meshmixer, a free and very often used piece of consumer software that offers a wide range of design options. The researchers behind PipeDream have sought to design their intriguing software to function as tool as a Meshmixer, to ensure that as many people as possible can use it to add an extra creative level to their designs.

As they explained in their research paper, PipeDream introduces a general technique for easily removing interior material from the radio or any other construction you have in mind. This forms internal pipes throughout your object that can be filled with a variety of different media post print, to do whatever you wish.

A few PipeDream objects with the piping made visible.

And this is how it works in practice. PipeDream allows users to design pipes in two ways:

In one, they select exterior anchor points on their objects [in Meshmixer]; the tool then creates complete point-to-point routings using A path search and physical rod simulation. In the other, users import vector art describing desired interior paths. PipeDream, using edge graph manipulation and Euler tour generation, creates a single path that follows the input shape.

The software thus allows you to specify the exact surface points of the pipelines created, while the exact trajectory they follow inside your model can be automatically generated or personally chosen as well. Looking for a tube with just a single opening, like their desktop penholder? No problem, as you can also cap some tubes to create cavities. Just be sure to carefully place your tubes so they don't come too close to your object's surface.

After going over all these options, the software then thickens the chosen routes to form pipes. It also automatically form pipes to feature smooth bends, allowing for easy insertion of media or electronics.

These tubes open up a lot of new avenues for innovative design, and makes prototyping so much easier. Alongside their functional radio and sensor-filled penholder, the creators of PipeDream also experimented with a host of other possibilities, like filling tubes with conductive paint to create easily powered LED lighting. Just imagine what it could mean for your own projects and ambitions!

Neon sign built using the process. (a) shows the unlit sign, and (b) shows it lit.

Of course, there are a few downsides to it as well. First and foremost, it doesn't remove the need for assembly, especially in the case of larger and more complex designs. As they admitted in their paper, 'especially complex geometries, models can be "cut up" into multiple pieces that can be assembled, avoiding support deposition or easing material removal; this can also ease insertion of the desired medium.'

It also means having to work with more support material than you might be used to, and removing that can be a bit of a challenge at times. Furthermore, you will still be required to add sensors, controllers and so on manually, which can also cause some problems. 'Our system mitigates this by minimizing the bend energy of the interior pipes, but for complex pipe geometries threading could be a challenge. Fluids also raise unique challenges.'

However, it nonetheless offers several interesting additional options to any 3D printing project and is perfectly capable of working with just about any fused-deposition modelling (FDM) 3D printer and therefore definitely worth checking out in Meshmixer.

For more on PipeDream, also check out this informative YouTube clip:

Posted in 3D Software

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John wrote at 10/11/2014 12:39:45 PM:

A taste of things to come

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