Researchers create new system to customize 3D printing

Researchers at MIT and the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya in Israel developed a new system that turns CAD files into visual models that users can customise using the virtual sliders on a web page and 3D print their designs.

Masha Shugrina, an MIT graduate student in computer science and engineering, her thesis advisor, Wojciech Matusik, an associate professor of electrical engineering and computer science at MIT, and Ariel Shamir of IDC Herzliya have presented their new system called “Fab Forms,” at the Association for Computing Machinery’s Siggraph conference, in August.

Fab Forms starts with a design created by an experienced CAD user and then sweeps through a wide range of values for the design’s parameters calculating the resulting geometries for which the system runs a set of tests and stores the results. The researchers distributed the tasks among servers in the cloud to reduce the time.

The researchers used eight designs, including a high-heeled shoe, a chess set, a toy car, and a coffee mug. The system samples enough values of the design parameters to offer a good approximation of all the available options, but that number varies from design to design. The researchers have also developed some techniques to exploit similarities in design variations to compress the data, but the largest data set took up 17 gigabytes of memory.

Finally, the system generates a user interface, a web page containing a central window, which can be opened in an ordinary browser. The window displays a 3D model of an object, and a group of sliders, which vary the object’s design parameters. The sliders are restricted to accept valid designs.

The sliders’ movement, e.g. changing the height of the shoe’s heel or the width of the mug’s base, sweeps through visual depictions of the associated geometries, which would take hours to calculate with a CAD program normally.

However, if a user wants a parameter between two samples stored in the database, the system can call up the CAD program, calculate the associated geometry, and then run tests on it, which might take several minutes, but the user will have a good idea of what the final design should look like. Autodesk has simplified the versions of this project.