A 3D printed object made of multiple materials can now be produced as one unit rather than separate parts to be stuck together by traditional means
Researchers at MIT have developed software that gives ordinary designers full control over the latest multi-material 3D printing techniques.
A team from the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) developed Foundry, a system for custom-designing 3D-printed objects with multiple materials that requires no programming knowledge.
The platform can be used with any commercially available multi-material printer, but is more powerful when used with MultiFab, the multi-material printer developed in-house by MIT and launched last year, say researchers.
MultiFab targets ‘true’ multi-material additive manufacturing, where the final component or product is entirely manufactured/printed in 3D.
Existing commercial multi-material 3D printers produce each part in an assembly, but the final product is still manufactured using traditional processes, with adhesives and binders.
Foundry software allows users to assign material properties at a level of resolution not possible before, says PhD student Kiril Vidimče, the first author on the paper for the project. ‘It’s like Photoshop for 3D materials, allowing you to design objects made of new composite materials that have the optimal mechanical, thermal, and conductive properties that you need for a given task,’ he says. ‘You are only constrained by your creativity and your ideas on how to combine materials in novel ways.’
To demonstrate the process, researchers designed and fabricated a ping-pong paddle, skis with retro-reflective surfaces, a tricycle wheel, a helmet, and a bone suitable for use in surgical planning.
When developing products, users first design the geometry of parts using traditional CAD software, such as Solidworks, then import the geometry into Foundry to design the final material composition. MIT is exploring the possibility of integrating Foundry into CAD programs to seamlessly interweave material design into the design of geometry.
An object’s composition is determined by creating an ‘operator graph’ comprising any combination of up to 100 fine-tuned actions called ‘operators’ able to ‘subdivide,’ ‘remap,’ or ‘assign’ materials. Some operators divide an object into two or more different materials, others provide more of a gradual shift from one material to another.
Users can mix and match any combination of materials and assign specific properties to different parts of the object, combining operators together to make new ones.