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This new 3D printing format does not use STL files

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Often, when talking about 3D printing, we must also mention the STL files.

Tessellation language or STL was invented in the 80s by 3D Systems and has certainly become a standard when referring to 3D printing.

But, what exactly does an STL file fulfill?

The .STL format is based on tessellation. It is a method that transforms the geometry of a digital model into triangles whose number varies according to the complexity of the object’s volume. It is very common to use this format to manufacture our 3D models on any 3D printer that uses stereolithography.

Using a slicing software such as CURA, our .STL file is transformed into a mesh that will be printed layer by layer until our object is completely done.

This process can be as slow as it takes, depending on the size of our object and the type of filling selected from it. Now, Researchers at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute set about the task of developing a 3D printer that works without STL files.

Called ‘Source Form’, this is an SLA machine that can create objects by assembling images by photogrammetry. That is, by extracting data from photographs taken from different points of view.

The user chooses the object they want to print.Credits: Source Form.

The more images are uploaded to the system, the more accurate the printing will be.

So, how can we print from this new machine?

Well thanks to its cloud service, all we have to do is first, enter the name of an object we want to print. Then, the machine will perform a search in relation to that text to discover associated images to start printing. Moreover, if the user needs it, he can detail with additional comments to improve the accuracy of the content that was sought and to have the precise object to be printed.

Once the characteristics of different images on this object have been compared, a COLMAP software structure from the movement (SfM) is responsible for building the 3D structure using scatter graphics obtained by stereoscopic techniques.

Obviously, a lot is still needed for this technology to be a standard. The researchers mention that before each print, it is important for the mesh to be preprocessed, refined or repaired, to avoid future problems in the 3D model.

Once finished, the system cuts the pixel-based geometry into bitmap images, which are then sent to the 3D printer.

The Source Form project was supported by the Virginia Institute of Technology for Creativity, Arts and Technology (ICAT). And the National Science Foundation (NSF).

Watch this SourceForm explanation video:


Source: iCAT Virginia Tech

What do you think of the next advances in the field of 3D printing?

Would you like to print without using files in STL format?

Read also: Autodesk to .STL

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  1. Darren says

    This seems to be where the future of 3d printing is headed.

  2. mperkins37 says

    Very cool stuff.

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