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3D Printing News Briefs, August 13, 2022: Natural Fibers, Robotic Gripper, & More

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We’re starting with an event in today’s 3D Printing News Briefs, as the New Collar Network is hosting a gathering of fab labs in New Mexico next month. Moving on to materials, researchers are looking into more sustainable 3D printing with natural fibers, and Desktop Metal has qualified Inconel 625 for use on the Studio System 2. Fraunhofer IGD developed a new process for avoiding the stairstep effect in 3D prints, and Washington University researchers created a 3D printed robotic gripper that can pick up anything. Finally, ETH Zurich and Nova Fundaziun Origen presented a temporary demonstrator of the White Tower that is to be constructed in Switzerland using digital printing.

Upcoming New Collar Network Meeting in New Mexico

On September 23rd, in Santa Fe, New Mexico, the New Collar Network is hosting a one-day meeting for North American makerspaces, fab labs, non-profits, educators, inventors, and more, to explore and discuss how digital fabrication can be used to disrupt the world. The meeting, from 8:30 am – 4 pm, will be held at the Santa Fe Higher Education Center, with a reception to follow. The primary sponsor is Forest CNC, and there will be multiple demonstrations and presentations, such as the University of New Mexico’s new clay 3D printing project and the Santa Fe Indian pre-apprenticeship student projects. The keynote presenter is Michael Stone, VP of Innovative Learning for the Public Education Foundation, who led Volkswagen’s installation of over 35 digital fabrication facilities in Chattanooga, Tennessee public schools.

“Join a fun, innovative group of educators, makers, inventors, and interested parties to hang in Santa Fe NM – one of the COOLEST places on the planet – to reimagine how we can change the world.

“All are welcome but our core group comes from fab labs, maker spaces, companies, schools and non-profits that think outside the box about the world. This one day meeting on Sept. 23 will blow your mind, get your juices flowing and re-charge your batteries – a not-to-be-missed event!”

You can purchase tickets to the New Collar Network meeting here.

3D Printing Natural Fiber Components

In the project 3DNaturDruck, construction elements will be manufactured additively from natural fibers, such as here a free-form tile made of wood short fiber filament. (Image: LZH)

The Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH), together with several partners, is researching how to 3D print individual building elements out of natural fibers for the 3DNaturDruck project. Natural fibers are readily available, with good mechanical properties and low weight, which makes them an advantageous material for use in structural components for construction and architecture applications. As an added bonus, they are a renewable resource, which synthetic fibers are not. The project partners are developing different natural fiber-reinforced biopolymer composite materials for 3D printing façade elements using FDM technology. The LZH is researching one processing method for very short natural fibers, like what you’d see in straw and wood, and a different one for natural continuous fibers from flax and hemp, in combination with biopolymers. Then, it will adapt the tools and nozzle geometries of an FDM printer for the different methods.

The goal is to enable smart, innovative designs that are sustainable and ecological, as well as simplify manufacturing processes for architectural components. That’s why natural fiber-reinforced biopolymers could work—the materials can produce complex geometries with low material and cost requirements, in only a few steps. A pavilion with the 3D printed façade elements will serve as a demonstrator on the campus of the University of Stuttgart; additional partners include the Fraunhofer Institute for Wood Research Wilhelm-Klauditz-Institut (WKI), German industrial companies Rapid Prototyping Technologie GmbH, 3dk.berlin, ETS Extrusionstechnik, and ATMAT Sp. Z o.o. in Poland. The university’s Department of Biobased Materials and Materials Cycles in Architecture (BioMat) at the Institute of Building Structures and Structural Design (ITKE) is coordinating the 3DNaturDruck project.

Inconel 625 Qualified for Use on the Studio System 2

Desktop Metal has qualified nickel alloy Inconel 625 for 3D printing on the Studio System 2, which prints and sinters parts in a two-step process. In all, the Studio System 2 now offers eight metals, delivering more material flexibility than any other metal extrusion 3D printing system on the market.

Desktop Metal announced that nickel alloy Inconel 625 (IN625) has been qualified for use on its turnkey Studio System 2 bound metal deposition 3D printing platform. This is a high-performance alloy with high corrosion and temperature resistance, which makes it good for applications in the aerospace, offshore energy, and chemical processing industries. But another benefit—high strength—is what makes it so difficult and expensive to machine into complex geometries. Normally, a skilled machinist and special CNC cutting tools and coolants are required, but now that it’s qualified for the office-friendly Studio System 2, users can quickly and safely print and sinter final end-use parts that can be precision machined for key surfaces. With the addition of IN625, the flexible Studio System platform now offers a total of eight materials, including copper, tool and stainless steels, 4140, and titanium alloy Ti6Al4V.

“The Studio System 2, which features our streamlined and easy-to-use two-step process, remains the most flexible metal 3D printer in its class. It’s never been more important for manufacturers to have the agility of on-site, on-demand metal production, and the Studio System is a perfect gateway into metal 3D printing for production. Adding IN625 to the portfolio only amplifies the flexibility of this proven system,” stated Desktop Metal’s Founder and CEO Ric Fulop.

Researchers Develop New Method for Eliminating Stair-Step Artifacts

Quantization artifacts are a fundamental issue for all 3D printing technologies, but especially for multi-material jetting printers. Despite their high resolutions, staircasing artifacts (a) can be visually irritating, and can structurally weaken the part (Moore and Williams 2015). Existing techniques (Kritchman 2010) (b) are limited to specific surface orientation, introduce considerable extra computation, and do not remove all artifacts. Our purely geometric and algorithmic technique (c) removes staircase artifacts in all surface orientations, accounts for resolution anisotropy, and introduces a minimal computational overhead.

A team of scientists at the Fraunhofer Institute for Computer Graphics Research (IGD) have come up with an entirely geometric and algorithmic process for avoiding and eliminating stair-step artifacts in multimaterial 3D printing. Their published paper was recently presented at SIGGRAPH 2022, the leading trade fair for computer graphics. Stair-step artifacts are typically pretty unavoidable in conventional AM methods, and not only do they look bad, but they can also pose a structural problem to the print. The team came up with a new process for PolyJet printers that decreases quantization errors, which makes the artifacts no longer noticeable, and at a level below where they could physically effect the process—resulting in a smoother, more uniform, and geometrically accurate surface finish.

Their “dithering” process avoids these errors by modulating the surface of the object with a high-frequency signal, like blue noise. This results in a distribution of quantization errors to high frequencies, which are later removed by multiple printing processes, and by the function of the human eye. The process doesn’t take any longer than usual, and results in higher quality prints, and can be used as an entirely algorithmic method, independent of the hardware. The scientists used the Fraunhofer IGD-developed Cuttlefish 3D printer driver in their published solution, and plan to further investigate whether a smoother surface finish also makes the prints more resilient.

3D Printed Robotic Gripper Can Pick Up Any Shape

A passive gripper, like forklift tongs, can pick up objects without changing shape, so objects have typically been designed to match specific grippers, because passive ones can’t adjust to fit the object. A robot gripper could make assembly lines more efficient, but only if the grippers were changed for each new task, which isn’t very cost-effective. At SIGGRAPH 2022, a team of researchers from the University of Washington presented a paper on their tool for designing a 3D printed robotic passive gripper that actually can pick up anything, no matter its geometry. It actually calculates the best path to pick up whatever the object is, because for any given object, there are multiple possibilities for what the gripper could look like. First, the team provides the computer with a 3D model of the object and how it’s oriented in space, and their algorithm generates and ranks possible grasp configurations. Then, it takes the best option and, as the researchers explained, “co-optimizes” it to find a possible insert trajectory. Once the best match is found, the computer will provide a set of instructions to 3D print the gripper, and another set with the robot arm trajectory for after the gripper is attached. They tested the system on 22 different objects, including a few—wedge shape and pyramid with a curved keyhole—that are typically challenging for most grippers, and had success with 20 of them. However, the two failures resulted from issues with the objects’ 3D models.

“The points where the gripper makes contact with the object are essential for maintaining the object’s stability in the grasp. We call this set of points the ‘grasp configuration,” explained lead author Milin Kodnongbua, who worked on the project as a UW undergraduate student in the Allen School.

“Also, the gripper must contact the object at those given points, and the gripper must be a single solid object connecting the contact points to the robot arm. We can search for an insert trajectory that satisfies these requirements.”

Temporary Demonstrator of 3D Printed White Tower

Rendering of the White Tower based on Benjamin Dillenburger

Finally, a temporary 3D printed demonstrator of a structure called the White Tower was recently presented in the tiny village of Mulegns in Graubünden, Switzerland by ETH Zurich and the Nova Fundaziun Origen. Last year, Federal Councilor Guy Parmelin of the Swiss Peoples Party presented the tower project in the unique village: a 30-meter-tall tower to be built entirely with digital printing. The structure will serve as an example in the country of what additive construction is capable of, including a majorly reduced need for concrete and formwork-free, modular building directly onsite. The demonstrator is meant to give people an idea of the tower’s planned architectural presence, as well as for technical research purposes. Construction of the White Tower is scheduled to start next May, once the financing has been secured, technical questions answered, and the building permit granted. Once completed, it will act as a cultural venue and walk-in art installation and performance space before being dismantled after five years.

“A white tower is to be built in the pass village of Mulegns, a completely digitally printed building that tells of literary heavenly journeys, the homesickness of the Graubünden emigrants and, last but not least, the bold taste of the Mulegns sugar barons,” the Nova Fundaziun Origen website states.

“It should also tell the rich cultural history of the place, promote gentle, substantial tourism, bring valuable digital know-how to the mountain canton and save a dying village.”

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