Jul 15, 2016 | By Alec

If you’ve ever tried to explain 3D printing to the uninitiated, you will have doubtlessly said something along the lines of “literally any possible shape can be 3D printed”. But this is only true to a certain extent. While hitherto impossible geometries can certainly be made with a 3D printer, those levels of complexity bring their own design problems with them. In an attempt to overcome those hurdles, researchers from Fuji Xerox and Hiroya Tanaka, professor of the Keio Research Institute at Keio University, have developed a completely new 3D printing data format called FAV. While conventional formats store data on a polygon level, FAV can retain complex 3D information (from internal structures, colors, materials and connection strength) on a voxel level – making complex geometry 3D printing easier than ever before.

If Fuji Xerox sounds familiar, that’s because it’s a joint venture of two well-known companies – Fujifilm Holdings (owning 75%) and Xerox Limited (25%). The joint venture produces and sells office equipment, from digital devices to publishing systems, with a focus on the Asia-Pacific region. But through Xerox, it also has a very extensive background imaging and 3D printing. The company also recently set up a partnership with Stratasys to provide 3D printing services in Australia. But this latest innovation, its researchers teamed up with Hiroya Tanaka, professor of Keio Research Institute at Keio University Shonan-Fujisawa Campus (SFC).

As the researchers revealed, their innovation grew naturally out of the fast pace at which 3D printing is evolving. The ability to construct very complex internal structures in full colors or with multiple materials simply creates a lot of data – straining the limits of existing 3D printing formats. These do not, for instance, have the ability to store color and material data and therefore make complex 3D printing a burdensome and time-consuming activity.

Until now, especially fabricating objects with different materials can be a very problematic process. Different colors would already have to be represented with CMYK or RGB, while interior geometries made from different materials requires users to design each part separately. Things can get even more complex if print jobs need to be paused to allow for manual alterations in setup or materials.

FAV (FAbricatable Voxel) has been designed to address these issues and store a far wider range of data in 3D models. While conventional polygon-based data formats only describe the surface areas of objects, FAV breaks models down to a voxel level and enables users to assign color and material information to each and every voxel. The results consist of highly detailed 3D models, which record every piece of information on internal structures and connection strength, and can be 3D printed again and again without burdensome data processing obstacles. The research itself was backed by the Center of Innovation (COI) Program, which aims to make 3D printing commonplace in society, the Center of Kansei-oriented Digital Fabrication at Keio University and the Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology.

With FAV, objects with complex, multi-material and multi-colored geometries could thus be far easier to produce than ever before. It largely grew out of the 3D data processing software development expertise of Hiroya Tanaka. He was provided access to Fuji Xerox’s image processing technology, and built a system that represents 3D objects on a voxel level, giving users complete access to embedded information on complex internal structures.

So when will it be made available? Well, specifications for the FAV format will be released soon, while the company will continue to work on its implementation. They are aiming, they say, to make FAV the de-facto standard for professional 3D printing environments. Could this be the design breakthrough industrial users have been waiting for?

 

 

Posted in 3D Printing Technology

 

 

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