Tag Archives: Maker Faire

Topology Optimization in Additive Manufacturing: 3D Printing Conference (Part 5)

Topology Optimization 3D Printing

Topology Optimization Key to Additive Manufacturing

Topology optimization, an industry term that Wikipedia defines as “A mathematical approach that optimizes material layout within a given design space,” could be a critical motivator to create industrial designs specifically for additive manufacturing.  In a captivating presentation at the Inside 3D Printing Conference in New York City, Jim Hassberger and Tony Norton from solidThinking explained how a technology inspired by bone structure research done over a century ago combined with the power of modern computing has led to a new way to optimize load-bearing structural designs.

The results of topology optimization are structures that have outward dimensions identical to normal load-bearing elements such as beams, yet have interior dimensions that look very different from traditionally manufactured parts.  In place of triangular or circular voids, these parts have remarkably organic, almost bone-like shapes.  The reason is, topology optimization software systematically analyzes the stresses on these shapes and then removes the most superfluous material from the design.  This process is repeated over and over by the optimization software, and by the end the computer design leaves only a skeletal interior structure.

Topology Optimization 3D Printing

Image from compumod.com.au

So what makes these specially designed parts so special?  Why design a part that is so complex?  The advantage of parts made with topology optimization is that the same strength characteristics can be created with less material, and this yields a greater strength to weight ratio, an important property across most industries related to transportation.  As a practical example, structural rib elements in an Airbus wing designed with topology optimization saved over 500kg in structural weight, which translates to significant cost savings.

The computing power to run topology optimization software became available in the 1990’s, but the technology did not spared as imagined by its creators.  Reflecting on its limited success twenty years ago today, Mr. Hassberger and Mr. Norton note that the real difficulty wasn’t in designing parts, but in producing them.  Three-dimensional designs created in such a way were often highly irregular with strange voids and curved interior surfaces, making them all but impossible to machine or cast using traditional manufacturing methods.  And that’s why they are so excited to reintroduce the technology today.  Additive manufacturing, a process in which “Complexity is free” according to 3D Systems CEO Avi Reichental, makes producing these highly complex forms as easy as producing straight, right-angled beams.

While there is still some cost associated with adopting topology optimization, not least of which is a software license starting around $6000, a process that used to be “by PhDs for PhDs” and almost prohibitive to manufacture can now be incorporated into designs after only four hours of training and access to additive manufacturing.  And as apparent proof of its value, these designs are already being incorporated into biomedical, Formula 1, UAV and traditional aerospace assemblies.

So will topology optimization be the latest catch phrase at the next Maker Faire you attend?  Probably not.  However it does promise to demonstrate to industry that additive manufacturing can bring even greater design optimization to existing products, and that is good news for everyone who hopes to see even wider adoption of this paradigm-shifting technology.


Authored by Brian H. Jaffe, founder of Mission St. Manufacturing and contributor to On 3D Printing.

Cover images from solidThinking.com

Video: Broad Horizons for 3D Printing – RepRap, MakerBot, and Beyond

3D Printing Broad Horizons

The video below explores the evolution and future potential of 3D printing.

3D printing technology has come a long way, fast. And after two new product launches 3D printing has stepped firmly into the mainstream consumer market, in the process diverging from some of its early roots. In late September Makerbot released its latest printer, the ‘Replicator 2′, geared less towards the 3D printing enthusiast and more towards the mainstream consumer. They’ve even opened a retail store in Manhattan. And that same week Form Labs debuted their ‘Form 1′ 3D printer which boasts a minimum print resolution of 25 microns. The sleek machine was on display at this year’s Maker Faire.

“We were students at the media lab at MIT and we did a lot of work with personal fabrication tools there. And we’re all designers and engineers ourselves, but we were very frustrated that really, really truly professional high design tools like 3D printing were too expensive, tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars for the independent professional designer. So we decided to start a company to make the ‘Form 1′ which is the first high-quality, yet affordable and well-designed 3D printer that you can buy,” Form Labs co-founder David Cranor explained at their booth at Maker Faire 2012.

On the other side of the Maker Faire at the ’3D Printer Village’ was a collection of some 30 homebrew 3D printers, products of the RepRap Project, a loose-knit community that pioneered much of 3D printing’s recent revolution. The project’s goal is to develop a 3D printer that can print itself.

John Abella has been hosting the ’3D printer village’ for three years now. His Frankenstein printer, originally a Makerbot ‘Cupcake’, is typical of the RepRap community. RepRap is open-source, which means any designs produced under the project are free to use. That makes finding replacement parts and upgrading parts especially easy.

“Because it’s open source, people were able to take the original designs, improve on them, get electronics made and then sell them really cheaply, twenty, thirty dollars. So you can keep these old machines going even though they’re not supported and original parts aren’t available anymore.”

And then there’s Jordan Miller who is taking advantage of RepRap’s open-source designs to build 3D printers that can be used to create functional vascular structures.

Miller’s method works by having the 3D printer print vasculature models in a sugar-like material which can then be used as a mold for living cells and eventually dissolved. In proof-of-concept experiments blood pumped through the vasculature was able to deliver nutrients and oxygen.

“Instead of starting with a commercial system, like a hundred thousand dollar machine and trying to make it print sugar, we’re trying to start with these open-source printers, this amazing community that we have here at Maker Faire and we’re trying to have this community help this community develop this kind of technology from the ground up. The open source community and science, they’re very compatible. Everything is science is open anyway, so it’s been a good merge of communities.”

As a potential side business, they’re also using the printer to make custom chocolates.

With the release of the closed-source ‘Replicator 2′ Makerbot, largely a product of the RepRap project, is to some degree, turning its back on RepRap and open-source. After all it’s hard to make a profit off of something if the designs are open source. While some may see it as a betrayal Jeff Keegan says he understands why Makerbot did what they did.

“I’m interested in having the essence of open-source not be hurt. So I don’t want to see someone testing to see if they can close something that’s open.”

He insists, however, that it won’t hamper the RepRap project’s goal of developing a self-replicating 3D printer.

Open-source is here already. Other people doing things on the side may cause problems for themselves, but it doesn’t really affect me… I got bigger fish to fry, getting my thing to work better, designing new things for this, I’m happy about that.”

Fab Lab of the Week: Fab Lab Dublin Brings Ideas to Life in Ireland

Fab Lab Dublin

This week’s featured Fab Lab is Fab Lab Dublin in Ireland, your own personal factory in the city with all the equipment and expertise to make it easier, faster, cheaper and more fun to create things. 3D printing is one of the key technologies at Fab Lab Dublin.

From their website:

We are a collective of designers, entrepreneurs and makers who are setting up Fab Lab Dublin. A Fab Lab is a digital fabrication lab equipped with computer-controlled machines like 3d printers, laser cutters, 3d scanners and precision milling machines. The lab acts as a personal factory in the city where you can design and produce your own inventions, prototypes and designer products.

Design and manufacture is fundamentally changing. Designs (physibles) can be shared digitally and collaborated on at a global scale. Manufacturing is being reinvented by the ability to ship digital data more efficiently than products. Digital information is now at the forefront of manufacture and design. A fab lab is equipped with computer-controlled tools that take digital data to create physical products. The lab includes technology-enabled products generally perceived as limited to mass production – meaning individuals can now compete with large-scale manufacture.

We want to empower individual designers, entrepreneurs and makers with access to the tools of invention. Fab Lab Dublin is a space where you can share your passions, designs and ideas. It is a space where collaboration and invention take place. Life is about the people you meet and the things you create with them. So come join us and share your passion.

Dublin Mini Maker Faire

Dublin recently hosted a mini Maker Faire. Here is a video showcasing some of the ideas at the faire.

Learn more about Fab Lab Dublin at their website, or follow them on Twitter @FabLabDublin.

See all of our featured Fab Labs in our weekly series.


Dublin at night photo by infomatique used under Creative Commons license.


Top 3D Printing Headlines Last Week: Libraries, China, Survey Results

UNR Library 3D Printing

A roundup of the top news On 3D Printing brought you from July 17 to July 22.

Tuesday, July 17

Wednesday, July 18

Thursday, July 19

Friday, July 20

Saturday, July 21

Sunday, July 22


3D printing photo by DSTL UNR used under Creative Commons license.

Video: Maker Faire Bay Area Interviews About 3D Printing

Maker Faire Bay Area video

Steve Tung brought his camera to the Maker Faire Bay Area this year and has produced a video focused on 3D printing.

Interviews include:

  • Lis Sampson, founder of 3D-Bots
  • Carine Carmy, Director of Marketing at Shapeways
  • Ronald Rael, Professor of Architecture at UC Berkeley

A variety of materials were discussed, from plastic to ceramics to cement to wood to salt.

And Steve shows RepRap printers that can even print their own parts.

Watch the full video below.