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Purdue, Adobe Create Process to Strengthen 3-D Print Objects

Bedrich Benes (Mark Simons, Purdue University)

Bedrich Benes (Mark Simons, Purdue University)

Computer scientists at Purdue University in Indiana and computer software company Adobe Systems devised an automated process to add more robustness to objects created through three-dimensional printing. The researchers discussed their methods in a presentation last month at the SIGGRAPH 2012 conference in Los Angeles.

3-D printers create shapes by adding various materials layer-by-layer, including metals and plastic polymers, following detailed specifications. In the past few years, 3-D printing popularity has boomed because of advances in computer graphics and a dramatic reduction of the cost of 3-D printers.

“Imagine you are a hobbyist and you have a vintage train model,” says Bedrich Benes (pictured right), a computer graphics professor at Purdue. “Parts are no longer being manufactured, but their specifications can be downloaded from the Internet and you can generate them using a 3-D printer.”

A common problem with 3-D printing, however, is the fragility of the printed objects. “I have an entire zoo of broken 3-D printed objects in my office,” Benes adds.

To meet this problem, researchers at Purdue and Adobe’s Advanced Technology Labs wrote software that automatically adds strength to objects before they are printed. The software analyzes the object’s structure with a mesh-based model of the item, finds parts with weaknesses, and selects one of the three possible solutions:

– Increasing the thickness of key structural elements

– Adding struts for support

– Hollowing out overweight elements to reduce stress on structural elements

In its analysis, the new tool also automatically identifies positions where a person is likely to grasp the object.  The researchers say the software needs less computing power than traditional finite-element modeling tools, used for high-precision work such as designing jet engine turbine blades.

“We not only make the objects structurally better, but we also make them much more inexpensive,” says Radomir Mech, senior research manager at Adobe Systems. “We have demonstrated a weight and cost savings of 80 percent.”

The team plans to build on this research to better understand the way structural strength is influenced by the layered nature of 3-D-printed objects. The researchers may also expand their algorithms to include printed models with moving parts.

The following video demonstrates the operation of the Purdue-Adobe software.

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