3D printing is an increasingly popular way to make prototypes, products, and replicas. It cuts feedstock waste, enables on-site production of objects, and reduces the need for shipment. Experts believe 3D printing technology will transform manufacturing and the economy. According to conservative estimates, the value of the global market for machinery, goods, and services relating to additive manufacturing will grow to over nine billion euros by 2018. In other words, 3D printing has rich potential.
As the capabilities of 3D printers increase—for example, as the range of supported feedstock types broadens—so do the challenges that the software must overcome. Enormous volumes of data are needed to accurately position the input material and achieve the required visual and geometrical properties. Fraunhofer IGD had these requirements in mind when it developed Cuttlefish, a voxel-based printer driver that enables streaming and is designed for multi-material 3D printers. Cuttlefish processes only the data required for the specific print job, minimizing the amount of memory needed. Even complex and large 3D models are ready to start printing in a matter of seconds.
The latest version of Cuttlefish supports RGBA textures that contain information on both color and translucency—varying from entirely opaque to fully transparent. The driver enables multiple overlapping models to be printed, each with one or more RGBA textures. “Thanks to our printer software, we can work with multiple feedstocks simultaneously to reproduce shapes, colors and subtle color transitions with high fidelity,” emphasizes Dr. Philipp Urban, Head of the 3D Printing Technology Competence Center. “In addition, we have successfully printed translucency—including partial translucency and diffusion of light through the object—in combination with accurate coloration for the very first time. As a result, 3D-printed replicas of human skin look very realistic.”
The Cuttlefish printing software’s features are clearly evident in a 3D-printed anatomy model formed from 28 components—each assigned a unique material, and together described by just 425 megapixels of color texture data. The transparent parts are created simply by modifying the RGBA data. This degree of realism for 3D models will change anatomy education across the world. As Urban underscores, “There are many applications for this new combination of color and transparency—ranging from the visualization of prototypes in manufacturing to printing dental implants.”