Kirchhoff-Plateau Surfaces: 3D printing on fabric to create complex 3D structures

Jul 12, 2017 | By Tess

A team of computer science researchers from Disney Research and the University Rey Juan Carlos in Madrid have developed a design tool software that makes it possible to 3D print smooth curved surfaces in a fast and cost-efficient manner.

The process enabled by the design software involes 3D printing planar curve networks (a bit like a 2D skeleton structure) onto a pre-stretched piece of fabric. When the fabric is cut into a pre-determined shape after printing, it contracts into a specific structure determined by the 3D printed pattern. The result is a complex 3D shape.

The 3D printed fabric structures, called Kirchhoff-Plateau Surfaces, were inspired by the work of Swiss designer Christophe Guberan, who has collaborated with MIT’s Self-Assembly Lab and is known for his experiments with materials and technology. Guberan reportedly experimented with the 3D printing on fabric process in 2015.

Armor simulated design (left) and manufactured prototype (right)

According to Bernhard Thomaszewski, an assistant professor at the University of Montreal who used to work for Disney Research, the Kirchhoff-Plateau Surfaces are surprisingly easy to make. All you need is a 3D printer (he says even a consumer-level FDM printer will do), a piece of stretchable fabric, the innovative design tool, and 20 minutes of time.

As you can see in the video, the design tool is used to create a 3D printed planar curve network, which is then 3D printed onto a piece of fabric that is stretched over a 3D printer’s build platform. When the printing is complete, the fabric can be cut into the desired shape. As the shape contracts, the plastic membranes force it to take on a pre-determined structure.

Car model simulated design (bottom) and manufactured prototype (top)

“During our initial experiments, we quickly realized that it is incredibly difficult to manually design curve networks that would lead to a desired 3D shape”, explained Miguel Otaduy, an associate professor at URJC Madrid. “It was clear to us that, in order to be successful, a design tool for such surfaces must take into account the underlying physics.”

“Our ambition was to create a software tool that would make the design of Kirchhoff-Plateau Surfaces easy and accessible even for non-expert users”, added Jesus Perez, a PhD student at URJC Madrid and lead author of the paper. “For this reason, it was not enough to merely predict the curved shape for a given planar network—the software needed to be able to automatically adjust the design in order to best approximate a user-specified target shape.”

Flower simulated design (left) and manufactured prototype (right)

Ultimately, the team was able to develop a design tool that integrates simulation and optimization algorithms, and which is user-friendly thanks to a user-guided and computer-assisted approach. The software makes it feasible for non professional designers to create Kirchhoff-Plateau Surfaces.

Those interested in the 3D printing project can learn more at this year’s ACM SIGGRAPH  event, an annual conference on computer graphics. The event will take place from July 30 to August 3 in Los Angeles, California.

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Posted in 3D Printing Technology

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