Jul.24, 2013

State-of-the-art 3D printing hardware is capable of mixing many materials, it is now possible to produce a wide variety of 3D objects. But while the hardware exists to reproduce complex, multi-material objects, the software behind the printing process is slow and difficult to use.

In order to fabricate complex surfaces containing bumps, color gradations and other intricacies, printing software must produce an extremely high-resolution model of the object. Such models often amount to petabytes of data, which current programs have difficulty processing and storing.

A team of researchers from the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab (CSAIL) developed OpenFab, a programmable "pipeline" architecture that allows for the production of complex structures with varying material properties.

"Our software pipeline makes it easier to design and print new materials and to continuously vary the properties of the object you are designing," said Kiril Vidimče, lead author of one of the two papers and a PhD student at CSAIL. "In traditional manufacturing most objects are composed of multiple parts made out of the same material. With OpenFab, the user can change the material consistency of an object, for example designing the object to transition from stiff at one end to flexible and compressible at the other end."

With OpenFab's streaming architecture, data about the design of the 3D object is computed on demand and sent to the printer as it becomes available, with little start-up delay. So far, Matusik's research team has been able to replicate a wide array of objects using OpenFab, including an insect embedded in amber, a marble table and a squishy teddy bear.

In order to create lifelike objects that are hard, soft, reflect light and conform to touch, users must currently specify the material composition of the object they wish to replicate.

To simplify this process, the team developed a new methodology called Spec2Fab. Spec2Fab is a small but powerful toolbox for building algorithms that can produce an endless array of complex, printable objects.

Instead of requiring explicit design specifications for each region of a print, and testing every possible combination, Spec2Fab employs a "reducer tree", which breaks the object down into more manageable chunks. Spec2Fab's "tuner network" then uses the reducer tree to automatically determine the material composition of an object.

By combining existing computer graphics algorithms, MIT team has used Spec2Fab to create a multitude of 3D prints, creating optical effects like caustic images and objects with specific deformation and textural properties.

Tomorrow, July 25, the team will present two papers at the SIGGRAPH computer graphics conference in Anaheim, California.

Posted in 3D Software



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Mike Sutton wrote at 8/24/2015 3:27:19 PM:

Looks wonderful. So, with this breakthrough, would be possible to create an art project of a printed object in synthetic amber?

AmyInNH wrote at 11/22/2013 7:11:58 PM:

Thrilled to hear it! 3D printing was looking mighty 1D in design limitation.

ThatGuy wrote at 7/26/2013 1:48:04 AM:

"Such models often amount to petabytes of data, which current programs have difficulty processing and storing." The human genome is only about 1GB of data...

Mouldmesh wrote at 7/25/2013 9:18:23 AM:

Zcorp printer's software (AKA 3DSystems) has been there for ages and it sends the layers on the fly, with no print-start delay. So, the idea was there... good that it is going to be applied to desktop printers though.

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