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State-of-the-art 3D printers can produce objects with a variety of materials and colours, but current software can be a handful to operate. MIT has developed OpenFab to solve the software problem and to make 3D printing easier. It will be launched at the end of the month at the SIGGRAPH Conference in California. OpenFab will allow designers to create objects that vary in colours and materials.

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“Our software pipeline makes it easier to design and print new materials and to continuously vary the properties of the object you are designing,” said Kiril Vidimče, lead author of one of the two papers and a PhD student at CSAIL. “In traditional manufacturing most objects are composed of multiple parts made out of the same material. With OpenFab, the user can change the material consistency of an object, for example designing the object to transition from stiff at one end to flexible and compressible at the other end.”

OpenFab is a programmable pipline synthesis of multi-material 3D printed objects that is inspired by RenderMan and modern GPU pipelines. The “pipeline” allows for the production of complex structures with varying material properties without producing huge amounts of data.

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Data for the 3D design is computed and then sent to the printer on demand. MIT’s team has been able to recreate a number of different objects using OpenFab, including a squishy bear and a butterfly encased in an amber like material.

The researches also developed Spec2Fab, a a small but powerful toolbox for building algorithms that can produce an endless array of complex, printable objects. Spec2Fab uses a “reducer tree” to break down objects into smaller pieces and then decides which material to use.