New MIT software makes it easier to design complex 3D printed objects

Most consumer 3D printers print in hard plastic. That’s suitable for creating cups and little figurines, but many objects can’t be printed because they require different materials. More complex objects that can be printed in plastic are very difficult to create with existing design programs because of the level of detail required.
On Friday, MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab researchers will reveal OpenFab, a new software program meant to make it drastically easier to design complex objects for 3D printing. Inspired by Pixar’s RenderMan software, OpenFab uses a new programming language to allow creators to modify the surface and composition of their project with quick commands instead of redoing the entire design by hand. Objects can be squishy and come in a range of colors — features that are difficult to create with current CAD programs.
MIT 3D printed foam rhinoceros
“In traditional manufacturing most objects are composed of multiple parts made out of the same material,” paper lead author and PhD student Kiril Vidim?e said in a release. “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.”
So far, the team has created objects such as foam animals and a butterfly encased in a clear amber-like material. The final design files are much smaller in size than if they were made on other design programs.
MIT 3D printed butterfly
The researchers will present two papers on their work at the SIGGRAPH conference Friday in Anaheim, Calif.