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MIT Develops Streamlined 3D Printing Software Inspired by CGI Movies

| 3D Printers | July 24, 2013

Openlab 3D Printing MIT

MIT's OpenLab software reduces the complexity of 3D printed models

A team of researchers from the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab (CSAIL) have developed OpenFab, a programmable 3D printer “pipeline” architecture that allows for the production of complex structures with varying material properties

Currently 3D printers can print complex objects, often with several different materials, but the 3D models for these objects are extremely complex. But the software that handles the 3D printing process is slow and difficult to use and less computationally complex algorithms are needed.

“Our goal is to make 3D printing much easier and less computationally complex,” said Wojciech Matusik, co-author of the papers and a leader of the Computer Graphics Group at CSAIL. “Ours is the first work that unifies design, development and implementation into one seamless process, making it possible to easily translate an object from a set of specifications into a fully operational 3D print.”

To fabricate complex objects that contain bumps, color gradations and other features the printing software must produce a high-resolution model of the object which can take up petabytes of data, the team said.

MIT Openfab Bear

MIT have used their OpenFab system to 3D print many objects, including this squishy Teddy Bear

Matusik and his team developed OpenFab to deal with these issues and was inspired by the RenderMan 3D modeling software that is often used in the production of computer models for movies. OpenFab uses “Fablets”, programs written in a special programming language that allow the user to define the look and feel of an 3D printed object, for example making the object transition from stiff at one end to flexible at the other.

OpenFab Texture Map

Texture mapping is also possible with OpenFab

OpenFab’s streaming architecture also allows the 3D data of the object to be computed on demand and sent to the printer as it becomes available, with minimal start-up time.The MIT team have produced many different multi-material objects using OpenFab including an insect within amber, a compressible Teddy Bear and texture mapped photo reliefs.

In addition to OpenFab the MIT researchers have also created the Spec2Fab methodology which is a set of powerful toolbox for specifying the material composition of the objects to print. A “render tree” breaks down the object into manageable chunks and a “tuner network” automatically determines the material composition of the object. This negates the need to provide design specifications for each section of the print, and testing each possible material combination.

Two papers outlining these new tools will be released at the upcoming SIGGRAPH computer graphics conference in Anaheim, California.

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