Tuesday, 9 October 2012

It's the software stupid! Part 2

We've said this before, but with 3D printing, it's the software stupid!  Software is used at every stage, from design, to materialization. And now, to also manipulate the physical structure and substructures of a 3D digital model, before hitting the 'print' key.

Everyone is familiar with 3D Design packages such as AutoCAD, SolidWorks and Blender, but maybe less so with specialized software that can enrich the design process in ways previously unimaginable.

Our first story focused on a research project in which a specialized software was used to examine the geometry of a model to find suitable bend points in which to add a joint - and then digitally make those modifications - steps which would take a human designer days or even weeks to render. After digital enhancement, 3D printing then allowed the whole model, including its new moving parts, to be materialized all at once.

In a new story, developers at Adobe have been collaborating with researchers at Purdue University to digitally enhance the structure of a 3D model intended for 3D printing, so as to increase strength, and at the same time, reduce weight and quantity of material used.

The research software runs a structural analysis, finds the problematic parts, and then automatically applies a solution. For example, it could increase the thickness of a strut, or it could hollow out unnecessary 'solid' space.  The team claims to have demonstrated a weight/cost saving of 80%.

Such innovations may be necessary if 3D printing is to reach a wide market. The researchers claim that objects created all too easily with 3D printing often fall apart or lose their shape.  “I have an entire zoo of broken 3D printed objects in my office,” says Bedrich Benes, associate professor of computer graphics at Purdue.

In the future, we expect a wide range of 'plug ins' to standard CAD/CAM software to become available. They will enhance our ability to model, and materialize, successful 3D printed objects.

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