Cornell University researchers are looking to give designers more control over their 3-D models during the fabrication process. At the 2016 ACM Conference for Human Computer Interaction, held in May, a paper detailing their On-the-Fly Print system was presented. What’s more, the new technique allows designers to print what they’re designing as they’re designing it, allowing them to go back and make changes if necessary.
“Our software starts printing features as soon as they are created and updates the physical model as needed,” the researchers wrote in their study. “Users can quickly check the design in a real usage context by removing the partial physical print from the printer and replacing it afterwards to continue printing.”
The technique makes use of a WirePrint printer developed by the researchers in collaboration with Germany’s Hasso Platner Institute.
Unlike conventional 3D printing, which builds a printed product layer by layer, the new technique creates a wire frame of the design. The input is taken from a solid object from a computer-aided design (CAD) file, which is created in a software plug-in called Rhino.
“Our main design goal with On-the-Fly Print is to provide CAD users with a tangible preview of their digital model during the digital design process,” the researchers wrote.
The WirePrint printer has 5 degrees of freedom, and only works vertically. However, users can shift their printed product around to aid the fabrication process.
In their study, the researchers designed and printed a toy airplane for a LEGO airport set.
Here’s how the process works: “After measuring a standard LEGO airport size, the user starts the design of the aircraft fuselage,” the researchers wrote. “The system starts printing the fuselage automatically after the geometry is finalized. As this happens, the designer moves on to specify the right wing using a curved design. She then mirrors the first wing to create the left wing. About two minutes later, the first wing is printed and she pauses the printer to remove the model and check if the proportion of the wing matches the LEGO runway.”
The project, which included a cockpit for a LEGO person, took 10 minutes.