Researchers at MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab (CSAIL) have created a new software program designed to make multi-material 3D printing faster and easier. They are calling the software "OpenFab: A Programmable Pipeline for Multi-Material Fabrication."

"3D printing hardware is rapidly scaling up to output continuous mixtures of multiple materials at increasing resolution over ever larger print volumes. This poses an enormous computational challenge: large high-resolution prints comprise trillions of voxels and petabytes of data" the researchers stated on their website. "Existing 3D printing software is insufficient; in particular, most software is designed to support only a few million primitives, with discrete material choices per object."

OpenFab hopes to change all that by providing people with a software program that can generate and stream information to their printer on demand, in chunks, rather than compiling all the print data at once before the first layer even goes down. "We have designed a streaming architecture for OpenFab; only a small fraction of the final volume is stored in memory and output is fed to the printer with little startup delay."

The streaming process lends itself well to printing with multiple materials. "Our software pipeline makes it easier to design and print new materials and to continuously vary the properties of the object you are designing," said CSAIL team member Kiril Vidimče. "In traditional manufacturing most objects are composed of multiple parts made out of the same material. 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."

The team displayed their new process at SIGGRAPH and showed off some of the multi-material models they created. They also put together a detailed PDF describing the process.