Cost-effective Printing of 3D Objects with Skin-Frame Structures


Weiming Wang1,2     Tuanfeng Y. Wang1     Zhouwang Yang1     Ligang Liu1     Xin Tong3     Weihua Tong1     Jiansong Deng1     Falai Chen1     Xiuping Liu2    
  1University of Science and Technology of China  
  2Dalian University of Technology  
  3Microsoft Research Asia  

ACM Transactions on Graphics (Proc. SIGGRAPH Aisa), 32(5), Article 177: 1-10, 2013

Teaser: Given an input Horse model (a), our method generates a skin-frame structure (b), which is approximate to the model, to minimize the cost of material used in printing it. The frame structure is designed to meet various constraints by an optimization scheme. In (b) we remove the front part of the skin in order to show the internal structure of frame. (c) is the photo of an printed model by removing part of its skin to see the internal struts. (d) is the photo of the printed model generated by our method. A small red drawing pin is put under the object as a size reference in (c) and (d) respectively. The material usage in (d) is only 15.0% of that of a solid object. (Story about the real object of "Bronze Galloping Horse Treading on a Flying Swallow" (google images)-- 马踏飞燕)



3D printers have become popular in recent years and enable fabrication of custom objects for home users. However, the cost of the material used in printing remains high. In this paper, we present an automatic solution to design a skin-frame structure for the purpose of reducing the material cost in printing a given 3D object. The frame structure is designed by an optimization scheme which significantly reduces material volume and is guaranteed to be physically stable, geometrically approximate, and printable. Furthermore, the number of struts is minimized by solving an l0 sparsity optimization. We formulate it as a multi-objective programming problem and an iterative extension of the preemptive algorithm is developed to find a compromise solution. We demonstrate the applicability and practicability of our solution by printing various objects using both powder-type and extrusion-type 3D printers. Our method is shown to be more cost-effective than previous works.

Keywords 3D printing; fabrication; frame structure; sparsity optimization


basic ideas

  • Rule of thumb in 3D printing: less material = cheaper

       Service companies, like Shapeways, charges you for the amount of material (i.e., the actual printed volume) you use in 3D printing. The price of the product is calculated by which 3D printing material chosen and how much this material used. This makes some products seem surprisingly expensive, like metal and jewelry.

  • Hollowing objects in 3D printing

       In 3D printing, an easy way to save some money, sometimes a LOT of money, is by making your object hollow. This is where the technology really shines. See the tricks and tutorial from Shapeways. However, hollowed objects aren’t as strong as solid ones. Thus the 3D printing software allow users to fill in some regular lattice like honeycomb in the hollowed object, see the following figures. 
      The straightforward approach used in commercial printer packages is to uniformly hollow the 3D object by extruding the outer surface and creating a scaled-down version on its inside. The user has to choose a scaling factor (thickness of object) based on experience. A large factor may lead to material waste while a small factor could cause structural stability problem. Thus it is technically nontrivial for the hollowing method to simultaneously match the goals of saving material and maintaining physical stability in 3D printing. As far as we have known, reducing the material used in printing has not been well studied.

Figure 2. Left: a solid object; Middle: a hollowed object; Right: a hollowed object with regular lattice like honeycomb.

  • Frame structure: a typical light weight structure

       Lightweight structures are widely employed in architecture, engineering, and building construction. A lightweight structure is termed as such, when, regardless of the type of material employed, the shape of the structure is determined through an optimization process to efficiently carry the loads from a critical loading case.
        Our key idea is to ‘hollow’ the object by creating a lightweight frame structure, made of a mesh of nodes and thin cylindrical struts with large voids among them inside the object. Frame structures benefit 3D printing in two aspects. First, the mass of object could be significantly reduced through the use of frame structures while maintaining its strength and stiffness.Second, frame structures provide sufficient flexibility and variability, which make them possible to meet a variety of constraints in 3D printing.
       We develop an optimization scheme to minimize the frame volume subject to various constraints such as stiffness, stability, geometrical approximation, self-balance, and printability.

Figure 3. Common frame structures used in architecture.



Figure 4. Overview of our algorithm. Given an input model (a), an initial frame structure (b) is generated. Our algorithm runs alternatingly the topology optimization (c) and the geometry optimization (d). The struts in (b), (c), and (d) are shown with color visualizations of their radii. Note that the frame in (c) is much sparser than that in (b). The frame volumes of (b) and (d) are 3.790e4 and 2.875e4 mm3 respectively. The saving ratio of the frame volume is about 24%. In this example, an external force of 5N is loaded vertically downside on top of the model.

Figure 5. The Hanging-Ball model in the lower row has a smaller base than the one in the upper row. The struts in (a) are coded with the same color bar in Figure 4. For the model with a smaller base, our algorithm produces thicker struts on the vertical pillar in the right part than the counterparts in the upper row due to the balancing constraint. Photos of the printed naked frame and the printed objects using the power-type printer are shown in (b) and (c), respectively.

Figure 6. Left: results produced by the method of [Stava et al. 2012] by adding external struts; Middle: the skin-frame produced by our algorithm (with half-naked rendering); Right: printed objects of our result using the power-type printer.

Figure 7. Printed objects using powder-type printers produced by our algorithm. From left to right: Fighter, TV-Alien, Fishing-Frog, and Buddha-Head. The upper row shows the rendering results with half skin and half frame. The lower row shows photos of the printed objects. The largest edge length of the bounding box of each object is 200mm. A small red drawing pin is put beside each object as a size reference.


Smart Design of Support Material for FDM printers

Smart Design of Support Material

Each 3D printing process and family of 3D printers has their own process and because of this their own type of support material (also called break away support) and method of applying it. Support material is essential though for any 3D printing process. The support material has to be removed from the printed objects manually and then be thrown away. For some types of 3D printers (like SLA printers, e.g., 3D Systems ProJet 3500 HDMax), the material cost of support material is more expensive  than the printing material. We have also studied the design of support material to reduce the use of support material.


Figure 8. In each pair of images, the left images show the printed objects with support material and the right images show the objects by removing the support material. (from the Internet)

We have also studied the design of support material to reduce the use of support material. We propose a scheme to design the structure of support by adding some extra struts to make the frame printable with minimal use of support material.

Figure 9. FDM printers need to add extra supporting structures to print the objects. Left: the printed result with supporting structure generated by the naive method in commercial software; Right: the printed result with supporting structure generated by our method. It is seen that our method needs much less material used in the supporting structures.

Figure 10. The frame structure with supporting material generated by our method printed with FDM printers.


Paper PDF (27.1M)
Supplementary material Supplementary material (147k)
Experimental data Experimental data (13.3M)
Video Demo (*.mov) (27.4M)
Presentation Fast Forward (7.0M)

PPT (31.0M)


Media 中国科大新闻网

《人民日报》(2013年09月23日08 版)


TV: 安徽新闻联播(2013年10月5日)



We would like to thank the anonymous reviewers for their constructive comments. The work is supported by the 973 Program 2011CB302400, the NSF of China (Nos. 11031007, 11171322, 61173102 and 61222206), One Hundred Talent Project of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the 111 Project (No. b07033) and Program for New Century Excellent Talents in University (No. NCET- 11-0881).

BibTex @article {Wang:SIGA2013,
    title = {Cost-effective Printing of 3D Objects with Skin-Frame Structures},
    author = {Weiming Wang and Tuanfeng Y. Wang
and Zhouwang Yang and Ligang Liu and Xin Tong and Weihua Tong and Jiansong Deng and Falai Chen and Xiuping Liu }
    journal = {ACM Transactions on Graphics (Proc. SIGGRAPH Aisa)},
s={Article 177: 1-10},   
    year = {2013}

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