Researchers develop Encore tool for augmenting everyday objects with 3D printing

Aug 11, 2015 | By Alec

While quite a few people in the 3D printing community can easily find their way around 3D modeling software and even make (or modify) cool 3D printable designs, using a 3D printer to directly print parts onto existing objects – 3D printed or not – is an entirely different matter. Want to improve an existing object? Just 3D print a completely new one; that’s the usual approach. However, a team of four researchers from the Carnegie Mellon University are set to improve our design possibilities tremendously with Encore, tool for easily augmenting existing parts with 3D printing.

This WebGL-based tool was developed a researchers Xiang ‘Anthony’ Chen, Stelian Coros, Jennifer Mankoff and Scott E. Hudson, with the help of a grant from the National Science Foundation. And as they explain in a brief paper in the Bibliometrics journal, it was developed with the express purpose of combating those limitations we have all encountered. ‘One powerful aspect of 3D printing is its ability to extend, repair, or more generally modify everyday objects. However, nearly all existing work implicitly assumes that whole objects are to be printed from scratch,’ they write. ‘Designing objects as extensions or enhancements of existing ones is a laborious process in most of today‘s 3D authoring tools.’ They have therefore developed a framework for augmenting existing parts with 3D printing to offer all of us a wide range of new creative options.

As augmentation is quite an ambiguous term, the team further narrow down their tool to three basic attachment techniques: print-over, print-to-affix and print-through. ‘We implemented these techniques in Encore, a design tool that supports a range of analysis with visualization for users to explore design options and tradeoffs among these metrics,’ they explain.

But as you might have guessed, this entire tool relies on understanding the model you’re augmenting. To do so, the user will have to first scan the target object, which probably rule out most of the users already. But if you happen to have a 3D scanner, Encore is capable of attaching the desired (separately designed) augmentation to the object through geometrically analyzing both parts. It will also determine its printability. Encore subsequently moves to the interactive exploration phase, where the tool is visualized and, if need be, altered to fit. Finally, a 3D printable model is generated consisting of the attachment itself as well as any supporting structures for the existing and new part. ‘ Encore also generates 3D models for production, addressing issues such as support jigs and contact geometry between the attached part and the original object,’ the team explains.

As explained above, this tool can be used for three distinguishable printing techniques, of which Print-Over is probably the most important most interesting. ‘Print-Over prints an attachment directly onto an existing object. Encore analyzes the feasibility of printing a new part at different surface locations of the object,’ they explain. ‘Once an attachment point is selected, the object is oriented and scaffolded with support structures. To illustrate it, they added a fridge magnet to an existing teddy bear toy, and we here at are already envisioning countless other applications of this very useful technique.

However, the other two applications are also very useful. Print-to-Affix can be used to add connectors between the existing object and an attachment. ‘This allows the attachment to be fabricated separately, and made to be affixable using fasteners or adhesives. Encore analyzes how the object’s surface properties afford a given affixing mechanism (e.g., how the convexity of a cross section affects using straps),’ they explain. Print-Through, finally, enables users to 3D print through and around existing objects, though this will require you to halt printing and place an object inside the semi-finished print. ‘Encore performs physics simulation to compute when to pause the print so that the attachment can be inserted without interfering the remainders of the print job,’ the researchers add.

While this tool is still under development, the initial options thus seem very promising indeed. In fact, these three techniques will open up a wide range of new 3D printing options while potentially saving a lot of materials by optimizing support structures and removing the need for reprints. We will keep you updated as soon as we learn more.

Posted in 3D Printing Applications

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