Dec 16, 2016 | By Tess

A few months ago, Autodesk updated its Ember desktop 3D printer which included the addition of “Pattern mode”, which offers users an alternative to the standard “Video” projector mode for the DLP SLA 3D printer. The main appeal of the new Pattern projector mode has been its ability to print even finer details on the Ember 3D printer than was possible before. In fact, with Pattern mode, users can even 3D print such fine details onto their pieces as tiny barcodes.

How does Ember’s Pattern Mode work? Well first off, if you haven’t done the upgrade for your Ember 3D printer yet, you’ll have to go through a few steps to get pattern mode up and running. First, you’ll have to check whether your Ember is running on firmware version 3.1 or later, and if not be sure to upgrade to the latest firmware both for the printer and the projector. Once the upgrade is complete, the Ember should be ready to 3D print in Pattern Mode. One final note to get your started, “UsePatternMode” will have to be included in your 3D model’s print settings, otherwise the 3D printer will automatically apply Video Mode.

Pattern Mode, in contrast to Video Mode, allows for the control of the projector’s individual micromirrors. This means that the intensity of each pixel that is projected is dependent simply on the gray value of the source image’s corresponding pixel. The result of this feature is the ability to produce incredibly fine details, even finer than with the printer’s standard projector settings.

Using Pattern Mode, users can now 3D print very small barcodes onto their 3D models, all without having to change resin type or color. Barcodes, which can be used to track parts through distribution processes, are a handy thing to be able to inconspicuously embed into a product, without having to stamp on a sticker afterwards.

Up until now, the challenge of 3D printing barcodes has been making sure they are legible by barcode readers, which scan based on high contrasts between the code and the space in between (black on white for instance). If you were to 3D print a barcode using a standard print setting, chances are that the reader would register shadows cast by the embossed barcode, making it inaccurate. By using Ember’s Pattern Mode in a specific way, however, this challenge can be surmounted.

To 3D print a barcode, you’ll first need to generate a bitmap of a barcode, which can be done through a number of applications. With the bitmap, you’ll need to do some processing to get it 3D print ready, including applying image masks. Basically, instead of printing the sliced version of the bitmap image, you’ll have to  integrate texture differences between the white and black parts of the barcode, which will ultimately be read as high-contrasts by the barcode reader.

More specifically, the white areas will have to be represented by fine textures which are more light reflective than the smooth, flat parts that make up the black bars of the code. Using this method, you can even generate a range of sizes for the 3D printed barcode, from about 4mm to as small as 1mm squares. For the larger barcode sizes, the white regions are discernible through a single-pixel checkerboard pattern. As maker greener1 explains in his Instructables tutorial, “In the smaller ones, the white cells are represented by solid blocks, either 2x2 pixels or 1x1, but they’re separated from adjacent white cells by single pixel gaps, allowing them to reflect light from all four edges.”

Of course, the smaller you 3D print the barcodes, the higher the chance of mistakes or illegibility. So, if you can, the larger (though still tiny) range might be more reliable. For 3D printing the barcodes, it is recommended to print them on a horizontal surface, and at 2 layers at 25 µm.

For full details, you can visit greener1’s tutorial here.



Posted in 3D Printing Technology



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