Software Frontiers: Rendering “Impossible” Forms

3D printing allows for the production of complex forms that would be extremely difficult, or even impossible, for traditional manufacturing. Yet, current rendering software is also often not adequate for taking full advantage of the complex, often biomimetic, designs that are a core strength of additive manufacturing production techniques. Digital rendering of 3D objects for printing often does not allow users much control over how exactly an object is actually printed, yet this factor has material consequences. Within a decade, software will better realize the complex design details that additive fabrication hardware is already excellent at producing.

Artist Bathsheba Grossman incorporates 3D printed "impossible" forms into her work

In fact, this step toward better design software will need to begin with fundamental lab work, since the exact effects that 3D printing has on materials, particularly using different build approaches and energy levels, are still only beginning to be understood. A number of new materials for use in digital fabrication processes have become available over time, yet there has been no disciplined approach to screening for suitable candidates or even to understanding the precise physical properties that these materials take after printing.


The aviation industry’s adoption of 3D printing will be a barometer of this process. The sector is a leader in demand for fabricated parts and tools and this further basic research will be a necessary precursor to the widespread adoption of 3D fabrication often touted as an industry goal. For consumers and regulators to become comfortable with widespread use of mission-critical 3D printed parts, better modeling of the physics of 3D printing and printed products will be essential.

Next: Software Frontiers: Haptic Design Interfaces

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