3D printers are everywhere these days, creating items from racecars to prosthetic beaks for bald eagles. Sadly, one major drawback of this new technology is that the objects made from metals and plastic polymers can easily fall apart from physical stress or poor design. Now, researchers at Purdue and Adobe’s Advanced Technology Labs have designed a computer program that can automatically identify weak spots in design specifications and add support before they’re printed.
Radomir Mech, a senior research manager at Adobe’s Advanced Technology Labs, knows the agony of having 3D-printed objects fall apart after hours of work and hundreds of dollars all too well. “You can go online, create something using a 3-D printer and pay $300, only to find that it isn’t strong enough to survive shipping and arrives in more than one piece,” Mech told Purdue News. Bedrich Benes, an associate professor of computer graphics at Purdue, can sympathize: “I have an entire zoo of broken 3-D printed objects in my office.”
Thanks to the efforts of software creator and former Purdue doctoral student Ondrej Stava, a new application will now be available to identify and strengthen stress points in an object’s design before being sent of to the printer. The program automatically increases the thickness of of key elements, or adds struts to bolster the structure by using a mesh-based simulation called a “structural analysis solver.” The tool also is able to find “grip positions,” or places where someone is most likely to grasp the object to reinforce those areas. In addition to making designs more robust, the software also helps drive down cost. “We not only make the objects structurally better, but we also make them much more inexpensive,” Mech asserts. “We have demonstrated a weight and cost savings of 80 percent.”
A paper authored by Ondrej Stava, Juraj Vanek, Bedrich Benes, Radomir Mech, and Nathan Carr, was presented at the SIGGRAPH 2012 conference this August in Los Angeles. Future applications of the software will focus on constructing algorithms that take into account the composition of objects with moving parts.