Mar 7, 2016 | By Alec

For a sense of technological progress, just take a look at the staggering number of patents that are being approved every week by the US patent office. For the last week alone, they reached 6,746 issued patents with each adding something new to our collective knowledge. And you’d be surprised how often Disney gets their hands on a new patent revolving around 3D imaging and manufacturing. Just last week, they received a patent for a new technique for 3D scanning with the purpose of creating high quality 3D prints, and now a new 3D printing patent has already been approved. This time, a patent was issued for a new technique to replicate reflective properties on 3D printed surfaces.

It might sound trivial at first, but when you think about it this is actually something 3D printers cannot do. Realizing highly complex geometric shapes with high level of details are not a problem anymore with existing 3D printers, but some properties cannot yet be copied. “With present 3D printing techniques, the reflection properties of the printed object or model are defined by or due to the chosen printing material,” they write in the patent. “Unfortunately, available printing materials offer a rather restrictive set of reflectance properties.”

That’s unfortunate, as a wide variety of finishes – such as a glossy shine –can be clear as day on a 3D model, but 3D printers simply aren’t capable of recreating that. In a nutshell, that is what this latest Disney patent – entitled 3D printing with custom surface reflectance (application number US 14/030,176) is about. Filed way back in September 2013, it features a technique invented by Jan Kautz, Olivier Roullier and Bernd Bickel for Disney Enterprises.

Their solution? In a nutshell, to 3D print an additional micro-surface on 3D prints that acts as a reflective skin and features several reflectance properties you can find on existing objects. That’s right, not one, but several reflective properties, as it might be useful to manufacture objects with two or three different properties. Being transparent in some parts, high reflective elsewhere and an overall glossy finish would really add a whole new dimension to for-market 3D printing. Other results, such as a matte finish or some matte sections of a product are also possible.

As you can see in the patent, it’s quite a complex 3D printing process involving a multi-material 3D printer. The reflective skin 3D printed on top of a part includes a diffuse color layer that provides areas with one or more colors and layer of transparent plastic. “[This provides] the reflectance elements of the micro-surface to provide or set reflectance properties for each colored region of the ink layer,” they say. And with each colored region featuring different properties, differing reflective results are realized.

But this would not be possible without a data-driven approach to surface geometry. Essentially, they take advantage of surface reflectance properties of special inks and spatially-varying, bi-directional reflectance distribution functions (svBRDFs) that determines where what has to go. “The 3D printing method optimizes micro-geometry to produce a normal distribution function (NDF) that can be printed on surfaces with a 3D printer. Particularly, the method involves optimizing the micro-geometry for a wide range of analytic NDFs and simulating the effective reflectance of the resulting surface,” they explain.

Through that optimization process, the appearance of an input svBRDF can be reproduced. “To this end, the micro-geometry is optimized in a data-driven fashion and distributed on the surface of the printed object. The methods were demonstrated to allow 3D printing svBRDF on planar samples with current 3D printing technology even with a limited set of printing materials, and the described methods have been shown to be naturally extendable to printing svBRDF on arbitrary shapes or 3D objects.” It’s quite a complex method, but could definitely change the game for high resolution, for market 3D printing. Now let’s hope this won’t just sit on a Disney shelf collecting dust for years.



Posted in 3D Printing Technology



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Angry Bob wrote at 3/7/2016 8:20:28 PM:

I suppose it's apt that the patent came from a Mickey Mouse outfit.

Angry Bob wrote at 3/7/2016 3:22:12 PM:

Oh you mean like fill, paint and lacquer the surface.... Sheesh, who grants these patents.

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