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Algorithms reduce 3D printing time, waste

22 Oct 2014  | Emil Venere

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Scientists have recently created new software algorithms that reduce the time and material needed to produce objects with 3D printers.

Because the printers create objects layer-by-layer from the bottom up, this poses a challenge when printing overhanging or protruding features like a figure's outstretched arms. They must be formed using supporting structures, which are later removed, adding time and material to the process.

Now, two software algorithms can address this problem. Researchers from Purdue University have demonstrated one approach that has been shown to reduce printing time by up to 30 per cent and the quantity of support material by as much as 65 per cent.

Software algorithms

New software algorithms reduce the time and material needed to produce objects with 3D printers. Here, the wheel on the left was produced with conventional software and the one on the right with the new algorithms. (Source: Purdue University/Bedrich Benes)

Such improvements are likely to result in lower overall printing costs, said Bedrich Benes, a Purdue associate professor of computer graphics.

"The total cost of printing is governed by numerous factors, including not only the price of the printer but also the amount of material and time to fabricate the shape," he said.

One of the most expensive barriers to this technology is the "ink." According to CNN Money, plastic filament—the standard material used by 3D printers—normally costs around $25 to $45 per kilogram depending on the quality and manufacturer.

Meanwhile, a group of fresh graduates from the University of the Philippines has recently developed a more affordable 3D printing technology. They designed an earth-friendly 3D printer—dubbed 3D PrintEarth—that uses scrap plastic as printing material, paving the way for a cheaper "ink" while reducing waste generation in the process.

PackMerger algorithm

Two research papers detailing the new algorithms have been published in the journal Computer Graphics Forum. One paper was authored by Purdue doctoral students Juraj Vanek and Jorge Galicia; Benes; and Adobe researchers Radomir Mech, Nathan Carr, Ondrej Stava and Gavin Miller. Vanek is now working at Samsung USA. Stava earned a doctorate in computer graphics technology from Purdue.

The new PackMerger algorithm works by printing a project in segments that can be glued together. For example, Benes said, printing a model of the Gateway Arch is completed by first dividing the arch into segments before printing.

"Our algorithm cuts the project into small elements that will fit into the printing tray," Benes said.

The algorithm determines how to pack the most elements into the smallest possible space using the same principle employed by the Tetris tile-matching puzzle game, in which tiles are manipulated with the aim of creating a horizontal line of blocks without gaps.

"To the best of our knowledge this is the first fully working 3D volume-packing algorithm," Benes said.

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