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Software makes 3D-printed objects more structurally sound


September 20, 2012

Purdue associate professor of computer graphics Bedrich Benes, with an assortment of objects made with and without the software

Purdue associate professor of computer graphics Bedrich Benes, with an assortment of objects made with and without the software

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One of the great things about 3D printers is the fact that they allow anyone to become a manufacturer of small items. Unfortunately, however, they don't allow anyone to become a competent structural engineer – just because you can whip up a three-dimensional design on your computer doesn’t mean that it will translate into a sturdy physical object. That’s why researchers from Purdue University and Adobe's Advanced Technology Labs teamed up to create a program that automatically alters such designs, adding strengthening features to them before they get printed.

The program starts by running a structural analysis of a design, which identifies weak spots. It also identifies areas on the object where it’s most likely to be grasped by a user, as these regions will be subjected to extra stress.

Using that information, it then chooses between one of three methods of adding strength to the finished object. These include making key structural elements thicker, adding supportive struts, or reducing stress by hollowing out elements that are too heavy.

As a result, not only is the finished product stronger, but it may also be lighter and require less material to construct. In lab tests, the team has reportedly demonstrated weight and cost savings of 80 percent.

The researchers are now looking into expanding the algorithms used in their program, to allow for the strengthening of objects with moving parts. Similar work is also being done at Harvard University, where scientists have created a program that analyzes 3D digital renderings of video game characters and figures out how to convert them into structurally-sound posable action figures.

Some examples of items made using the Purdue system can be seen in the video below.

Source: Purdue University

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away. All articles by Ben Coxworth

I used to want a 3D printer because I draw in 3D before I build and so I have all the skills. But in the last year I have tried to justify the the new lower cost, so I have been looking at what other people make to figure out what I would print if I had one. I have not seen one object that is very interesting. I've decided that the world really does not need this. Most manufactured objects use many different materials unless you are making toys. I think a business that did it cheap would be all we need. If you had one what would you make?

The Hoff

Software that identifies the structural defects before printing and suggests modifications is good but when I tell it to print I want it to print what I have specified without modification.


If you look at the various models, you can easily see the weak points. I think they have deliberately made them like that, just to say a programme can identify weaknesses.


It appears just to be FEA. Set a stress limit, modify accordingly. It's obviously not doing this without interaction, and human decision, so why bother? 3D printing is still largely an engineering tool. If the masses snap a few models, it'll be cheaper to break them than buy software, for the number of models they'd ever print.

That said, Adobe doesn't have FEA that I know of, so the PDF people must simply be awestruck at the magic.


It's interesting that "The Hoff" does not think that the world needs 3D Printers simply because "he" hasn't found one object interesting enough for him to make. There are some of us who are extremely excited about this technology, and can't wait to get our hands on one.

I would remind him that (not too long ago) there weren't enough things of interest on the Internet to justify having a computer in every home. Now we can't get enough of them, and some of us can't do without having access to one wherever we go and while we're getting there.

David Rickman
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