Vladimir Bulatov, Shapeways 3D Graphics Researcher, said this as he explained why our newly launched 3D model Wall Thickness Tools were such a challenge to build. “I am a 3D modeler and when I first started thinking about automatically measuring and fixing a model’s wall thickness for 3D printing, I thought the problem was unsolvable.” How can designers continue to push the boundaries of design with 3D printing, unhampered by manufacturing guidelines? This challenge was too large for us to ignore, and we set off close to four (4!) years ago to solve what seemed impossible.
What are the Wall Thickness Tools?
3D printers, like any manufacturing tool or machine, have limitations on the minimum distance between two points, known as ‘minimum wall thickness.’ Designing with minimum wall thickness in mind is important but difficult, so giving designers feedback on their designs is critical, especially as 3D printing becomes more accessible.
Wall Thickness Tools are two innovations by Shapeways that are available for free to the entire 3D design and 3D printing community.
Wall Thickness Visualization automatically identifies the areas where your model might need adjustment in order to meet minimum wall thickness to survive 3D printing and post processing.
Wall Thickness Fixing automatically thickens your model’s walls to the minimum recommended thickness for a specified material. Fixed models can be printed or downloaded for further adjustment.
We don’t have the silver bullet, but we do think the tools will make a significant impact. As with other creative industries where feedback is critical, giving 3D designers immediate feedback is a leap. It was a substantial undertaking, so we’re sharing why it was such a difficult challenge, our discovery process, how it works, and ultimately how we hope it will impact the 3D print community.
Why is wall thickness such a difficult challenge to solve?
The goal was to create tools to help designers identify and fix potential problem areas prior to 3D printing. The solution had to provide accurate and relevant data, in order to help 3D designers speed up the design and iteration cycle.
Man vs Machine
Take, for instance, a triangle: at the very tip, the wall thickness gradually becomes zero. The same concept applies to the edges of a blade of grass. The wall thickness will eventually get below the minimum wall thickness requirement for 3D printing. Yet these objects are printable and a 3D Printing Engineer would know that. But is it possible to create an algorithm that provides exact wall thickness measurements only when it is a problem?
Another challenge is measurement complexity. For example, imaging drilling a hole into one side of a 1x1x1cm solid cube, but stop short just before the drill goes all the way through the other side. Looking at this model physically would not reveal that the bottom of the hole is too thin to be 3D printed. Thus, even if you were using software to measure wall thickness point by point, you would need to know to measure that particular point.
Furthermore, we see a lot of complex 3D models, designed by our community, that push the boundaries of design. In order for us to accept every creation by any designer, the Wall Thickness Tools can not be limited by complexity.
Our Discovery Process
The ideas of Alexandru Telea and Andrei Jalba, published in the academic paper, Voxel-Based Assessment of Printability of 3D Shapes were our starting point in developing the Wall Thickness Visualization Tool. Over the past four years, we developed three versions of the Visualization & Fixing tools, each building on the learning from the last.
The simplicity of the tool is deceiving, as the algorithmic power required to run the tools against a constant stream of 3D models require up to 25 computer servers running simultaneously. We host more than one million 3D models, receive thousands of model uploads per day, and, as a result, manage the biggest 3D printing database in the world. The breadth of 3D models uploaded by our community plays a critical role in our discovery process, as the designs span organic, geometric, architectural, parametric, and sculptural 3D models, representing a huge range of design complexities and needs. We run the wall thickness tool algorithms across thousands of uploaded models to validate the tool’s performance against actual printability as determined by our 3D Printing Engineers.
How it Works
Now let’s circle back to the question of: “Is it possible to create an algorithm that provides exact wall thickness measurements only when it is a problem?” We answered this question by changing it.
We shifted the question from “What is the wall thickness and is it too thin?” to “How do we enable designers?” The information that is valuable to a design isn’t necessarily the exact thickness of the wall, but to the visual identification of potential problem areas. When designers have information about potential problems, they’re empowered to decide whether it’s a problem worth solving.
The Wall Thickness Visualization Tool does this by automatically measuring the distance between two points, in real-time, through the entire model. It then classifies areas as ‘safe’, ‘suspect’, or ‘unsafe’, for the designer to determine which areas should be fixed (such as a thin wire) and not be fixed (such as details or edges).
The Wall Thickness Fixing Tool creates a ‘thin walls skeleton’ for area suspected of not meeting minimum wall thickness requirements. It then inflates this skeleton to what the minimum wall thickness should be (known as ‘fixes’ or ‘delta geometry’). The fixes are combined with the original model to create the ‘fixed model’.
Fixed models are just one way to adjust a model to ready them for 3D printing, but not necessarily the ideal way for the needs of the designer. The images below demonstrate how the the tool thickens a thin wall, but creates a potentially undesirable protrusion on the flat surface on the right side of the model. Thus, the tool’s value is in providing immediate guidance on preparing a model for 3D printing, as well as the fixes themselves, and are meant to empower designers to update their designs as needed and much more quickly.
Exciting news! Adobe Photoshop is making it even easier to create and modify designs for 3D printing, particularly in full color.
Adobe's latest release of Photoshop Creative Cloud lets you create full-color 3D models right in Photoshop. You can design from scratch or refine an existing 3D model while using the Photoshop CC tools you’re already familiar with. Then upload your design to Shapeways and 3D print in over 40 materials.
The brand new Photoshop Creative Cloud includes these powerful 3D printing features:
Use the standard Photoshop toolbox of brushes, gradients, filters, and bump maps to add color and texture to your existing 3D model then export to 3D print with Shapeways. It has never been easier to add color and effects to 3D models.
Create new 3D models from 2D images using extrude, twist and pinch tools while adding texture with bump maps to create truly unique 3D models ready to 3D print.
Automated mesh repair and wall thickness repair to ensure your designs are ready to 3D print in all of the materials on Shapeways. Simply insert your 3D file as a 3D layer on Photoshop then choose the Shapeways material in the “3D Print Settings” dialogue box along with the detail and scale, then select “3D Print” and Photoshop will voxelize and repair your file, prepare the print for upload and estimate the cost in your material of choice.
This latest release of Photoshop puts incredibly powerful 3D tools into the hands of everybody running the software. It lowers the barrier of entry and increases the reliability of your designs being ready to 3D print with Shapeways. We’re super excited to see what people create! Adobe is also offering a free one-month trial so you can test the tools for yourself.
Hard to believe we’re about halfway through January! So, how are those are #3DP2014 Resolutions coming along? If you still haven’t tried to design anything, it’s okay, we forgive you. But now’s a great time to step up your 3D print game. And with TinkerCAD, it couldn’t be easier.
• It runs right through your browser—no need to download anything. • It’s video game-esque...you embark on a series of quests to design cool stuff. • You’ll learn about the software as you use it. • It’s FREE! (Unless you upgrade to the paid option.) • You get confetti when you complete a design.
What happens when NYC product engineers and design enthusiasts combine their passions for 3D printing and Citi Biking? You get 24 Share-it Gold, a 3D printed Citi Bike key necklace created by the inventive folks at Tomorrow Lab and printed by yours truly.
Turning digital ideas into physical reality is not without its challenges, so Shapeways is starting the year off with an incredible new tool to make 3D printing even easier. Shapeways' Wall Thickness Tool gives you instant feedback at upload to improve your model by detecting areas that are below our Thin Walls thresholds for each material offered.
Nervous System have just released a new Kinematics jewelry range coupled with a customization app to create unique 3D printed jewelry based on interlocking components. While this is a beautifully simple interface to create customized 3D printed jewelry, it is the potential for draping and compression to fit a large design within a small 3D printer build size when using a process such as Shapeways Selective Laser Sintering that really makes this an impressive application for 3D printing.
Kinematics is a system for 4D printing that creates complex, foldable forms composed of articulated modules.
The system provides a way to turn any three-dimensional shape into a flexible structure using 3D printing. Practically, Kinematics allows us to take large objects and compress them down for 3D printing through simulation. It also enables the production of intricately patterned wearables that conform flexibly to the body. Kinematics produces designs composed of 10’s to 1000’s of unique components that interlock to construct dynamic, mechanical structures.
Each component is rigid, but in aggregate they behave as a continuous fabric. Though made of many distinct pieces, these designs require no assembly. Instead the hinge mechanisms are 3D printed in-place and work straight out of the machine.
Above for example, you see a full scale dress design that would be far too large to fit into even our largest printer that can take parts up to 650x350x550mm in Nylon. By converting the structure into a series of self folding connections the entire dress could be compressed down to the smallest possible form (whilst maintaining enough distance so parts do not sinter together) and then be 3D printed in our EOS slective laser sintering 3D printer in one entire print. We would then unfurl the dress from the print build, air blast the excess Nylon powder out of the dress and it would be ready to wear.
This project evolved out of a collaboration with Motorola’s Advanced Technology and Projects group which challenged Nervous System to create in-person customization experiences for low cost 3D printers. The genesis of the project is discussed at length in The Making of Kinematics post on the Nervous System blog.
Are you a fan of Dinosaurs? Or a recent #Dinovember bandwagoner? If you just answered yes, and should you like your Dinos in cinematic form, you've likely seen the work of David Krentz. Given his feature in our recent Bronze launch, the timely nature of viral heartwarming dinosaur stories, and in an effort to showcase some of the Shop Owners we're so grateful for, I give you...
Interview with David Krentz: "I still pinch myself that someone pays me to make dinosaurs."
Several weeks ago Tinkercad killed the popular 3D modeling app, closing new users and announcing a slow death for existing users from the free to the pro accounts. Today's news that Autodesk is saving Tinkercad is even sweeter as it has unlocked all of the pro features so you now have unlimited designs as well as access to the 'superscripts' that take the relatively simple 'drag and drop' assembly of geometry to a greater level of 3d modeling complexity.
The Autodesk team are also planning to continue to develop the 3D modeling app further with more import and export options and it may even find it's way into the already impressive 123D range of apps that are perfect to design for 3D printing with Shapeways.
Mecube is an easy (and addictive) app to 3D design and 3D print direct from your iOS device. The intuitive interface is a simple 'voxel modeler' where you add cubes together to make a 3D form like assembling single blocks of Lego together. You can use the same process to cut away or even 'skew' cubes for some slightly more complex variations. Each voxel can be assembled as a solid color or you can go back and paint each surface, by touching a surface multiple times you increase the saturation of the color, this allows for quite a large variation of colors from such a simple interface.
While Shapeways was at Maker Faire in Newcastle, U.K. our European Community Manager was interviewed about the latest 3D printing tools in Blender 2.6.7. Check out the video then take a look at Blender, the free open source 3D modeling application that just might be the perfect 3D modeling tool for your next Shapeways 3D printing project.
On Friday, April 12th Ronnie Parsons from Mode Collective will host a full day of hands-on workshop as part of The Facades+ PERFORMANCE. A series of workshops designed to provide professionals and academics with the skills and knowledge to work with cutting edge technologies in a fast-paced and intensive environment. AIA/CES LU credits approved.
INTRODUCTION TO PARAMETRIC DESIGN, a workshop geared towards professional workflow for beginners.
This workshop will focus on the fundamental concepts and workflows for creating performance-based design models with the parametric design tool, Grasshopper for Rhino3D. Combining the intuition of visual programming with the robustness of parametric design, Grasshopper offers unprecedented fluidity throughout the development of a project. Using Grasshopper, participants will be guided through a series of exercises designed to emphasize the relevant applications of parametric design for professional practice.
Fridays at 5 in the Factory (NYC time) is a Google Hangout to give you an opportunity to ask the Shapeways 3D printing engineers your questions about Shapeways materials, processes and how to design for success. We had an impromptu hangout last Friday that included a brief introduction to some of the Shapeways team along with a shaky, noisy virtual tour of the factory.
The replacement part is not available from the manufacturer but he has the existing broken part that will be relatively easy to copy for someone with basic 3D modeling skills. If you are a 3D modeler who is capable of helping baerfoot keep his wife caffeinated drop him a line in the Shapeways Forums. While you are there you may as well submit your portfolio in the 3D Modelers for Hire section too.
For Tinkercad users they are rolling out the closure in stages:
Effective immediately they have closed sign-ups for new users
April 30 2013 - All free accounts will be changed to read only
August 31 2013 - All academic accounts will be changed to read only
December 31 2013 - All paid accounts will be changed to read only
June 31 2014 - Read only access for all users will be discontinued
This means if you currently have files stored on Tinkercad, you will have until June 31 2014 to download them from their storage and/or upload them to another repository such as Shapeways, Sketchfab or Thingiverse. If you have unfinished models in Tinkercad you have a limited time to make the modifications to export and/or 3D print them.
This beginners class is an intro to 3D modeling with Autodesk 123D Design and 3D Printing with Shapeways.
We will work step by step through some of the basic tools used to 3D model, how to construct basic forms using sketches, solid modelling, and basic patterns. We will then upload our designs to Shapeways to get a taste of how to export your 3D model to 3D print.
You do not need to have any experience with 3D printing or 3D modeling to participate in this class. Bring your Mac or PC laptop your charger, and an external mouse and create an account on Shapeways prior to the event and download 123D Design we will be using in the class.. If you are interested in a broader overview of the materials, processes and some 3D printed case studies, take a look at the intro to design for 3D printing.
Thu, Mar 28th, 2013 7:00 pm – 9:00 pm EDT at Shapeways HQ in NYC