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The Stack Archive

MIT framework takes 3D printing beyond prototyping

Tue 11 Oct 2016

A new system from MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory allows operators with very low skill-sets to create multi-material 3D objects with a facility and speed that has not been available before – and the creators believe that such a system could break 3D printing out of the ‘prototyping’ ghetto into the realm of the ‘replicator’.

Entitled ‘Foundry’, the system enables the user to import CAD models and dynamically apply material qualities to the final output, instead of needing to subdivide the design in advance and assign a property to each chunk.

This allows for a fluidity and grace in output which represents build quality similar to, or better than, templated manufacturing processes.

PhD student Kiril Vidimče, the lead author on the research paper, explains:

“It’s like Photoshop for 3-D materials, allowing you to design objects made of new composite materials that have the optimal mechanical, thermal, and conductive properties that you need for a given task… You are only constrained by your creativity and your ideas on how to combine materials in novel ways.”

The object to be printed is initially exported from a CAD package, and is then assigned an ‘operator graph’ – effectively a matrix base index of what kind of materials and consistency it will prove upon being printed. The user can then perform subdivision and remapping operations – all very traditional fare in 3D mesh development, except that material assignment to the divisions now has a real-world counterpart; and materials can gradually mesh into each other organically, bringing the toy-like abruptness and obvious delineation of 3D printing to an end.

The team, whose project is supported by the National Science Foundation, tested the system on non-designers, who were tasked with reproducing a teddy bear, a tweel (tire-wheel) and a bone structure; all were able to complete the task in less than an hour, with an hour’s prior instruction. In one case the object was produced from zero in 26 minutes.

The system has obvious applications in dentistry and re-constructive surgery, since the natural segues between materials are well suited to these purposes.

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