TU Delft Researcher Worked with Ultimaker to Investigate Intent-Based 3D Printing

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Joost Kuitert is a master’s student of Integrated Product Design at TU Delft in the Netherlands. According to Kuitert, 3D printer users have many action possibilities to choose from when 3D printing, but these have not been translated into easily understandable controls that match their intentions. For a final graduation thesis, titled “Intent-Based Material Extrusion 3D Printing: Moving from process-driven to intent-driven 3D printing,” Kuitert collaborated with Ultimaker to design a way for other 3D printer users to match their intended outcome with the final 3D printing, in what is referred to as intent-based 3D printing. In this study, intent means a representation of a mix of several actions that an actor, or multiple actors, might need to complete to achieve a goal.

Kuitert believes that “3D printers are part of the next generation of enabling devices which empower professionals in their work,” and chose Ultimaker because it’s a leader in the 3D printing market and works to create a seamless 3D printing approach through its software, hardware, and materials.

Based on desk research about Ultimaker (material extrusion, 3D printing workflow, etc.) and user experiments, which analyzed what role user intent plays in the workflow, Kuitert developed eight different design opportunities for intent-based 3D printing approaches:

  1. Goal-oriented print preparation
  2. Reducing the knowledge threshold
  3. Component level control
  4. Promotion of 3D printing affordances (action possibilities available to users)
  5. Management of 3D printers
  6. User education
  7. Intent communication
  8. Feedback

“Ideation is applied to these design opportunities to create three concepts, of which the highest scoring concept is further developed,” Kuitert wrote in the paper’s abstract. “The proposed design is a software plugin for the Cura engine based on product configuration systems used in retail. The software architecture consists of six modules that work together to analyse the model geometry, retrieve requirements and wishes based on the communicated intent, recommend profile selections and user actions, validate the print preparation process and guide the user towards ideal printer configurations and process parameters. By using the 3MF file format, models are separated into several components, which can be configured individually by means of ‘component profiles’. Component profiles are developed by Ultimaker, companies and individual users to present a subset of print settings that facilitate an intended 3D printed result. A software plugin for Cura 3.3.1 is developed as a prototype for testing the designed intent-based 3D printing approach.”

Kuitert limited testing to control of goal-oriented settings and component-level manipulations, and concluded that user guidance, in addition to “the educative experience of print preparation,” can be improved by using component profiles in print preparation. Beginners are more confident that they’ll achieve their desired part qualities, and while expert users may feel like they have less control with the objective plugin, they can still be confident that their print will come out the way they intended it.

“Within the plugin users can better voice their intentions through selecting component profiles. These profiles present meaningful feedback to users that both guides and educates them,” Kuitert explained. “Of course the realized plugin has its limitations: it does not use intent information that can be included in the supplied model files, nor does it offer all the designed guiding features. Even though these limitations exist, this study represents a step forward in the journey from process-driven to intent-based 3D printing.”

The goal of the study is to give 3D printer users the means with which to better voice their intentions during the workflow, along with a system that can identify these intentions and provide the user with meaningful, important feedback.

“Currently, inexperienced users of 3D printers are presented with a multitude of affordances, ranging from changing machine components (hardware), printing with different materials (material), and fine tuning print settings (software), of which most are hidden at default to avoid misuse. Moreover, preparing prints is process-driven because knowledge of the material extrusion process is required in order to manipulate process parameters to achieve prints with advanced printing requirements,” Kuitert wrote. “In contrast, intent-based 3D printing could result in a better printing experience and 3D prints that better match the user’s goals.”

The thesis discusses the ins and outs of material extrusion 3D printing and the 3D printing workflow, before moving on to who is using Ultimaker 3D printers, and in what context they’re being used. Then, Kuitert investigated and analyzed the 3D printing market and trends, and two chapters are dedicated entirely to intent, before getting to the eight design opportunities for intent-based 3D printing.

“Currently, the 3D printing workflow is process driven: once the user decides to use 3D printing, the actions that are taken towards realizing the part are about manipulating the process, rather than manipulating properties of the resulting part,” Kuitert wrote.

Kuitert also explained the process behind making a prototype of the Cura plugin for intent-based 3D printing, which would “test the user interaction of assigning component profiles to parts of the model in order to achieve intended results.” Later, two user tests were conducted to validate the plugin prototype model.

“From the user test, it can be concluded that print preparation using component profiles significantly improves user guidance and the educative experience of print preparation,” Kuitert explained.

“Alltogether, within the designed plugin users can better voice their intentions through selecting component profiles. These profiles present meaningful feedback to users that both guides and educates them. Of course the realized plugin has its limitations: it does not use intent information that can be included in the supplied model files, nor does it offer dilemmas to the user. Even though these limitations exist, this study represents a step forward in the journey from process-driven to intent-based 3D printing.”

Kuitert finished up with some research recommendations that would help further develop this concept of objective, intent-based 3D printing.

“Since the results of this project are limited by the projects’ scope, further research needs be conducted on the user experience of the intent-based 3D printing approach, but I feel confident that I made a major contribution to moving from process-driven-, towards intent-based 3D printing approaches,” Kuitert concluded.

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