Since its first steps, 3D printing has come a long way. From the experimental to the existentialist, “Can you 3D print a 3D printer?” (to which the answer is yes, you can), 3D printing has begun to take its place as a major player in the world of industrial design.
It may come as a surprise to see just how much today is made with additive manufacturing. The advantages are non-negligible: quickly generated, perfectly tailored pieces allow designers to conceptualize new products for a low price.
The trend goes beyond the early adopters and into industry leaders. It even has health applications – you can, for instance, get a cast perfectly shaped to your body; Adidas 3D prints its Alphaedge midsole. It features in transportation design too: Airbus uses additive manufacturing for entire panels in the A320.
These manufacturing developments were major concerns for the clients of the Substance team, and we began to notice an exponential increase in the number of queries about 3D printing. Conversely, the team at CoreTechnologie encountered very much the opposite situation: they had extensive expertise in additive manufacturing, but a limited knowledge of texturing – and, again, they had many clients with questions.
It wasn’t only based on clients’ requests, though – the Substance team had long had the intention to work on a solid digital-to-physical workflow. Fortunately, both Substance and CoreTechnologie had teams located in Lyon, which made it easy to meet and think about possible synergies.
Today, in order to 3D print something, the steps are as follows: create a model. Prepare the model for printing. Print. Enjoy.
The preparation step can be quite complex, as Geoffrey Rosin, Technical Artist for Substance, points out: “Producing for 3D print requires strong constraints in terms of topology: it must be both as continuous and as hole-proof as possible (watertight). The slightest hole in the objects creates uncertainty in the printed result.”
If your data for printing comes from CAD software (such as Solidworks or CATIA), you might use 4D_Additive to prepare your data for your 3D printing solution of choice. The company which created 4D_Additive is called CoreTechnologie and, though headquartered in Germany, carries out most of its development in France.
So, during that first meeting in Lyon, the 4D_Additive team, noticing that companies tended to request more and more customization capabilities for their 3D prints, joined forces with the Substance team to figure out a way to integrate texture information into printing files… and ultimately print a shape with textures.
Gauthier Wahu, General and Technical Director of CoreTechnologie France, was part of the team who helmed the Substance integration in 4D_Additive. He already had some idea as to where this joint venture could find its real-life applications: “Most of our potential customers for this application are working in the automotive industry. There is a huge demand for the customization of car interiors, and 3D printing is the right answer.”
A ready-to-print solution
Seduced by the ability to create unique parts for a reasonable price, clients could technically come from a wide variety of sectors. The automotive industry was, however, the initial target for this venture: “We’re targeting automotive, aerospace, and in general all sectors that capitalize on a design-signature and customer experience. When customers want products in their image, customization becomes the norm.” When it all comes together, CAD data + preparation + texture offers a ready-to-print solution, which takes you in a few steps from initial concept to holding the piece in your hand.
With this in mind, the team began to work on a proof of concept.
“The idea,” Geoffrey says, “is to be able to modify a 3D model to add a surface texture, a particular granularity. In practice, this means precisely deforming the surface in an area of the model to recreate the granularity of a material such as leather, for example, or to produce a visual effect by repeating geometric patterns.”
For CoreTechnologie’s Gauthier, the project preparation was surprisingly quick and painless: “We provided the test data coming from our customers. 4D_Additive was used to generate a clean mesh that was imported into Substance tools.” The tool of choice, here, was Substance Designer, the Substance suite’s procedural material creation software.
Geoffrey Rosin was the Substance artist in charge of texturing the proposed parts using Substance Designer. “To apply a simple material, users can go to Substance Source, download the .sbsar file of the material they’re interested in, then drag and drop the file into the Substance Designer project graph, in order to see it applied to the object.”
The team continued to explore, applying different Substance materials to the test models. The materials were modified to produce the real grain and 3D texture on the chosen area. And as Geoffrey says, “If patterns don’t exist in the Substance material, it’s always possible to combine one or several in the base material via an ancillary graph generating said patterns.”
In the end, the team had a very specific type of result in mind – one that would match the potential clients’ interests: it had to be hyper-realistic, qualitative, and customizable.
Once the textures were applied to everyone’s satisfaction, the modified models were reintegrated into 4D_Additive in order to finalize the 3D printing preparation: it was time to heal the mesh and nest it into the building space.
An HP Jet Fusion 4200 printed the physical parts and, as Gauthier says, “that was purely awesome!” Because when things go from digital to physical, there’s a sort of magic that happens when we can hold in our hands the object we’ve conceptualized, and it looks exactly like the design.
The proof of concept was ready. It worked. It looked good. The CoreTechnologie team took several samples in their luggage and brought them to Formnext 2018. The biggest event for Additive manufacturing was bound to be the best place to bring this prototype to clients.
The team gathered feedback – and went straight back to work.
Maturation of an integration
Armed with that first success, the Substance team gave access to the Substance engine SDK to CoreTechnologie developers. The goal was to “give easy access to texturing to non-specialists,” Gauthier says. This drove the next development steps: “few complex functions, minimal actions, and a lot of interactions.”
The end-user would not be an expert in texturing, but would ideally want to explore the expansive possibilities of texturing for product customization. For instance, after seeing the appeal of Substance materials via a curated preselection of default materials in 4D_Additive, a 3D printing expert might be hesitant to try creating original textures in Substance Designer; rather, he or she might prefer downloading pre-made textures.
Grégoire Lemasson, developer for 4D_Additive, remarks: “As clients were not necessarily graphic designers, the idea was more to offer them the chance to play with pre-existing textures available on Substance Source.” Indeed, the massive, ever-growing collection of materials allows for great freedom of customization, and a wide choice of possibilities.
Anyone who would want to go further can get absolute control in Substance Designer: everything is allowed in the root Substance tool: geometry, detail, control of the parameters, and more besides.
Then, the integration of parameters in 4D_Additive lets users visualize variations in real-time on the object”. “This really allows the user to play with the different renderings and quickly see the effect on his object.”