Jul 11, 2016 | By Alec

Despite all its making advantages, 3D printing has one huge drawback: it features a very steep learning curve when it comes to design. More so than the costs involved, this is a significant barrier that is preventing widespread adoption. Though numerous companies are working hard to make 3D design more accessible, Swedish startup Febtop Tech has found a very potent solution. They are currently working hard to complete the FEBCAD AR app, a smartphone-based solution that allows users to draw designs with basic shapes using an augmented reality environment and the objects around you.

This interesting concept was born about a year ago, and is being developed by a team led by Tom Yang and Simon Karlsson. Yang was actually working on his PhD in biomimetics at Bath University way back in 2006 – in the same lab where Dr. Adrian Bowyer pioneered RepRap 3D printing. He has been in love with 3D printing ever since, though he never found the ultimate 3D printer he was looking for. So two years ago, Yang joined forces with Swedish astrophysicist and veteran maker Simon Karlsson to take matters into their own hands.

While initially focused on building a 3D printer, Yang revealed that they logically crossed paths with 3D modeling as well. “When we observe new users, with no previous 3D printing experience working with our 3D printers, we often see them struggle as they try to learn a 3D modeling software or a CAD program. We quickly realized that we had to find a way to make that process more natural and inviting for new designers”, he revealed.

When looking at different platforms and tools, the makers quickly settled on augmented reality smartphones. “We decided to go for the phone since most people have one and the point was to make it accessible so it was the logical choice,” they told us, adding that this brings its own challenges to the table. “We want the software to be actually usable so you can easily draw simple designs and for the app to not only be a gimmick. There is a lot of features you need before you can draw something useful and one of the challenges we face right now is how we can add more features without bloating the interface.”

So how does FEBCAD AR work? In a nutshell, it takes 3D design out of your browsers and brings it to your phone. Through the app, you can draw basic shapes (from boxes cylinders, pyramids, spheres to cones and more) on the desk in front of you, and play with angles, sizes and a lot more. This process is visible in the clip below.

While most AR apps are only intended for viewing models, FEBCAD AR thus does a lot more. Among others, users can also draw 2D shapes with freehand and extrude them into the third dimension, rotate shapes around all axes and freely move shapes around. What’s more, users can also import STL files to view in AR. “When you feel done with your design you can simply export your 3D model to the STL format,” its makers say. “By using AR technology we are trying to lower the entry barrier for new designers and makers. We are working together with schools and educators to make 3D printing more accessible.”

This interesting design solution has been under development for about three months now, and will initially be released for Android devices –  with other platforms being added during later stages. And as Febtop Tech is currently also working on two 3D printers – the Optimus and the Nimo 3D printers – users will also become able to directly send print jobs to those printers from the app.

Incidentally, those 3D printers also look very promising. The Optimus will be the flagship model, and is a robust, modular and almost completely metal machine that can be adapted for several purposes. “The first way is to assemble it into a delta configuration that gives you a cylindrical print volume. In less than 10 min you can reassemble the printer into a Cartesian design with a rectangular print volume where you can print larger and wider things but are limited in the height direction,” its designers say. “ In both configurations you are able to swap the toolhead to change the functionality of the machine, for example turning it into a laser cutter or a CNC mill, but the laser cutter and the CNC of course gives you best flexibility in the Cartesian configuration.”

While that 3D printer will be intended for (professional) makers, product designers, engineers and artists and will provide an excellent 3D printing quality, the Nimo 3D is a smaller (100 x 100 x 100 build space), more affordable and very accessible model. “Once delivered, you unpack the machine, give it some power, flip a switch, import your model and start printing,” its makers say. “We think of the Nimo3D as a device to play and learn with, to ease the beginner into the 3D-printing world. It is perfect for schools to use in education as an introduction tool for students to learn 3D-printing, but also as a tool that can be used to make the learning experience more creative and interesting.”

While neither the FEBCAD AR app or the 3D printers are available yet, the Swedish team is working hard on both. “We do not have any plans to patent anything. Our ambition is to release the app and the source code with an open source license hoping to build a community around the app,” they say. The app will also be bundled with the 3D printers, but they are fully dedicated to open source principles. Could this be 3D design solution that the industry has been waiting for?

 

 

Posted in 3D Design

 

 

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