Multi-material manufacturing combines multiple fabrication processes to produce individual parts that can be made up of several different materials. These processes can include both additive and subtractive manufacturing methods as well as embedding other components during manufacturing. This yields opportunities for creating single parts that can take the place of an assembly of parts produced using conventional techniques. Some example applications of multi-material manufacturing include parts that are produced using one process then machined to tolerance using another, parts with integrated flexible joints, or parts that contain discrete embedded components such as reinforcing materials or electronics.
Multi-material manufacturing has applications in robotics because, with it, mechanisms can be built into a design without adding additional moving parts. This allows for robot designs that are both robust and low cost, making it a particularly attractive method for education or research. 3D printing is of particular interest in this area because it is low cost, readily available, and capable of easily producing complicated part geometries. Some machines are also capable of depositing multiple materials during a single process. However, up to this point, planning the steps to create a part using multi-material manufacturing has been done manually, requiring specialized knowledge of the tools used. The difficulty of this planning procedure can prevent many students and researchers from using multi-material manufacturing.
This project studied methods of automating the planning of multi-material manufacturing processes through the development of a computational framework for processing 3D models and automatically generating viable manufacturing sequences. This framework includes solid operations and algorithms which assist the designer in computing manufacturing steps for multi-material models. This research is informing the development of a software planning tool which will simplify the planning needed by multi-material fabrication, making it more accessible for use in education or research.
In our paper, Voxel-Based Cad Framework for Planning Functionally Graded and Multi-Step Rapid Fabrication Processes, we present a new framework for representing and computing functionally-graded materials for use in rapid prototyping applications. We introduce the material description itself, low-level operations which can be used to combine one or more geometries together, and algorithms which assist the designer in computing manufacturing-compatible sequences. We then apply these techniques to several example scenarios. First, we demonstrate the use of a Gaussian blur to add graded material transitions to a model which can then be produced using a multi-material 3D printing process. Our second example highlights our solution to the problem of inserting a discrete, off-the-shelf part into a 3D printed model during the printing sequence. Finally, we implement this second example and manufacture two example components.