Apr. 27, 2015 | By Alec

The rapid expansion and democratization of 3D printing technology has definitely been revolutionary, as more people than ever before can starting making and designing in the comfort of their own homes and garages. Really the only drawback is that there’s a steep learning curve that needs to be dealt with before new users can join this exciting community: digital modeling. Though CAD design is becoming easier and easier, creating designs remains quite complicated. Fortunately, three researchers have just published a paper detailing a far easier option: a handheld wax extruder that makes wax shapes at high speeds and simultaneously created a 3D printable digital in Rhino software. This could be a perfect option for those designers looking for a more intuitive and tangible approach to 3D modeling.

This handheld device is called the D-Coil, and has been developed by Huaishu Peng (Cornell Univesity), Amit Zoran (Hebrew University of Jerusalem) and François Guimbretière (also Cornell). As they explain in their recent paper (entitled D-Coil: A Hands-on Approach to Digital 3D Models Design) published in Chi 2015, their goal has been to make CAD design easier than ever. ‘Though the interface of CAD systems has been greatly improved, the learning curve remains steep and creating complicated, smooth shapes requires the mastery of complex construction commands,’ they write.

The idea is that D-Coil will do away with all those hours spent laboring over a CAD design, as it places additive design squarely in the real world. ‘For example, to build a cylinder, one would use the D-Coil tool as a pointer to define the center and diameter of a circle to serve as a cylinder base, then follow the lead of the actuated extrusion tool to coil layers of an accurate physical version of the cylinder in wax,’ they write. ‘Because each geometric element is instantiated in wax as it is created, design and construction happen at the same time [in software].’

Just some examples of wax models and the 3D printed results they have been used for.

The D-Coil, in short, greatly simplifies design as the wax model is created intuitively, while the actual output of the process is the accurate digital and 3D printable model. ‘The digital model affords all digital attributes (ease of transformation, distribution, and 3D printing) while the wax artifact can be discarded or kept as a one-of-a-kind memento, they explain.

The effects of the actuator.

Of course the first question that comes to mind is: how do you ensure that this is accurate? After all, using a heavy handheld extruder isn’t as easy as coloring within the lines. To address this problem, the trio of designers has built the D-Coil around an actuator that ensure the user stays on the right path. ‘The user first defines the digital base shape using the tool as a 3D pointer. This information is used by the system to create a digital model and control the actuated extrusion mechanism to create the shape in wax,’ they explain. This will ensure that the digital model created remains accurate and consistent.

Some of the shaping options possible with the D-Coil.

The rest of the device is essentially a FreeD V2 hardware tool, in which the milling tool is replaced with a customized wax extruder. A 6D magnetic tracker is also attached to device to capture location and movement. This tool then sends all data to a custom Grasshopper plug-in running in Rhino CAD software. ‘The digital model consists of a succession in 2D profiles, mapping the actual series of wax ribbons in the real world,’ they explain.

The D-Coil is a very interesting concept that has proven, as you can see in the photos above, to be capable creating quite intricate shapes through the wax cutter, the 6DOF mouse and its editing options. Of course, it does come with several drawbacks. As its designers concede, the tangibility of the wax structures somewhat limit design options. All nooks and crannies in your design simply need to be able to be made in wax, while the creation of complex inner structures requires very careful planning. Nonetheless, the D-Coil can definitely grow to become a very interesting addition to a maker’s design arsenal. It certainly is much quicker than just about every CAD program.



Posted in 3D Design


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