If you have a 3D printer then you are likely overwhelmed by the sheer number of possible objects you can find online to print out. At the same time, the technology is somewhat limited, unless you have professional CAD skills or are incredibly creative. What, for instance, would you do if you wanted to take an everyday item such as a hot glue gun and print an attached stand for it, or turn your child’s favorite action figure into a magnet? It’s little projects like these which simply are not possible for the average Joe like myself via 3D printing.

Four researchers at Carnegie Mellon University, Xiang ‘Anthony’ Chen, Stelian Coros, Jennifer Mankoff and Scott E. Hudson, believe that they can change this via a new WebGL-based tool under development called Encore.

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Funded by the National Science Foundation under grant NSF IIS 1217929, Encore is a multifaceted tool which enables three different techniques to augment already existing objects. The researchers call these three techniques Print-Over, Print-to-Affix and Print-Through, all of which allow for the adherence of newly 3D printed attachments to other objects. Before we get into what each of these three techniques involves, one first should understand the computational pipeline involved in designing these attachments.

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First a user is required to design a basic attachment, or perhaps use a design that they’d like to iterate upon. Once they have a basic model of their desired attachment the Encore system will geometrically analyze the model along with a 3D scan of a target object, that the attachment will adhere to, in order to determine its printability while also deciding if it will be durable enough and usable once attached to the target object. Next comes the interactive exploration phase, where the tool will visualize and explore various areas where the attachment can be affixed to the target object. The tool will also adjust the design of the attachment, if required, to better fit the target object. Once this is all settled, it’s now time for Encore to generate a model which not only will include the attachment itself, but also any connecting structures and even supports to hold the target item or attachment in place. Below you will find the three techniques that the Encore tool can use to attach 3D printed items to a target object:

Print-Over
This technique, in my opinion, is one of the coolest, as it allows for the printing of an attachment directly on a given object. Once Encore establishes the parameters required and sizes up the model to fit the target object, it will automatically tell the printer to print supports to hold the target item in place. Once the target item is in place, Encore will then tell the printer to begin printing the attachment in a particular spot on the target item, based on its geometric analysis of that object.

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“It is also important to ensure that the existing object will not impede the motion of the print head while the attachment is being printed,” warn the researchers.

An example used by the researchers for this technique was a magnet holder which they directly attached to a teddy bear figurine. They also printed an LED light onto a 9V battery by first placing a small amount of glue on the battery prior to beginning to print on top.

Print-to-Affix
This approach is similar to the Print-Over technique, only that instead of printing an attachment directly onto the target object, Encore will analyze the geometry of the target object prior to printing in order to create an attachment which will fit perfectly on that object via glue, straps (zip-ties) or even snaps. Once the attachment is printed the user can then use hot-glue or another adhesive or attachment mechanism to affix the printed object onto the target.

Print-Through
This technique is perfect for items which you don’t want to physically attach, but instead can connect to an object. For instance a tag on the loop of a pair of scissors or a charm onto a bracelet. This process requires that the printer be paused while a user manually places the target object within the print field.

“Print-through has aesthetic qualities that distinguish it from print-to-affix and print-over – it typically creates a loose but permanent connection between two objects,” explained the researchers.

While the new Encore tool is still under development as researchers improve upon its analytical capabilities, it certainly seems to show promise to those of us wishing to do more than just fabricate new items. In fact, the researcherse5 were able to show that via all three techniques they could save a substantial amount of time and material over printing an object in one single piece. As an example, they used Slic3r to estimate the print time and total material required for printing a typical Utah teapot with a torus-shaped handle, as well as just printing the handle onto an already fabricated Utah teapot. Their estimate showed that the time of fabricating the item could be cut by more than 80% and material use reduced by as much as 85% by using their techniques and the Encore tool.

There are many variables going into the tool’s decision making algorithms, such as determining where to place attachments for the best balance when holding an object, what placement of an attachment will result in the best adhesion, etc. More research is still required as the team continues to develop the tool, as well as new techniques to attach multiple parts to one object, but it certainly seems like something which could have a sizable impact on the industry in general. Let us know your thoughts on the Encore tool in the Augmenting 3D Prints forum thread on 3DPB.com. Check out the video below for some additional information on the Encore tool:

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