3D Printing

Researchers Demonstrate a Customizable 3D Printing Design

Professors and students at universities in the United States and Israel may have taken the first step toward fully customizable 3D printing design.

While 3D printing is growing in popularity and use, the ability to create designs remains time-consuming with designers having to recalculate the geometry of objects each time they make a change, leading to waits of several minutes and sometimes several hours, if you include the time it requires for simulation software to test the redesign.

Researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya in Israel presented a new system they created, "Fab Forms," at the August Siggraph conference presented by the Association for Computing Machinery.

The researchers took eight commonly used designs — including a high-heeled shoe, chess set, toy car and coffee mug — and came up with as many variations in design as they could find, in some cases, hundreds of thousands of them.

While this took time, the task was made easier by distributing the tasks over multiple servers in the cloud.

The Fab Forms system they created allows a designer using computer-aided design (CAD) applications to create all the available options that they might want.

Then they created a user interface, a Web page that opened in an ordinary browser. It consisted of a central window where the 3D model of the object would be displayed, along with a group of sliders that represented the parameters of the object's design. The system would automatically weed out all the possible parameters that would make the model unprintable.

For instance, moving one of the sliders — perhaps changing the height of the shoe's heel — would allow the system to sweep through all the associated geometries and, in real time, make changes that ordinarily would take hours to calculate.

"We envision a world where everything you buy can potentially be customized," said Masha Shugrina, an MIT graduate student and one of the system's designers. "A technology such as 3D printing promises that that might be cost-effective."

About the Author

Michael Hart is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer and the former executive editor of THE Journal.

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