Laser cutting is an essential part of many industries, from automotive manufacturing to construction. However, the process is not always easy or efficient: cutting huge slabs of metal requires time and expertise, and even the most cautious of users can still produce massive amounts of leftover material that is lost. The underlying technologies that lasers use to cut edges are actually not that sophisticated: their users are often in the dark about how much of each material they have used, or whether a design they have in mind can even be manufactured.
With this in mind, researchers at MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab (CSAIL) have created a new tool called Fabricaide that provides live feedback on how to place different parts of the design on their blades – and even exactly be able to analyze how much material has been used.
"By providing feedback on the feasibility of a design as it is being created, Fabricaide enables users to better plan their designs in the context of available materials," says Ph.D. student Ticha Sethapakdi, who led the development of the system alongside MIT professor Stefanie Mueller, undergraduate Adrian Reginald Chua Sy and Carnegie Mellon University Ph.D. student Daniel Anderson.
Fabricaide has a workflow that the team believes significantly shortens the feedback loop between design and manufacture. The tool keeps an archive of what the user has done and keeps track of how much of each material they have left. It also allows the user to assign multiple materials to different parts of the design to be cut, simplifying the process so it is less of a headache for multi-material designs.
Another important element of Fabricaide is a modified 2D packaging algorithm that can arrange parts on plates in real time in an optimally efficient way. The team showed that their algorithm was faster than existing open-source tools, while producing comparable quality. (The algorithm can also be disabled if the user already knows how to arrange the materials.)
“Many of these materials are very scarce resources, and so a problem that often arises is that a designer only realizes that the material has run out after he has already cut the design,” says Sethapakdi. "With Fabricaide, they could know earlier, so they can proactively determine how best to allocate materials."
As the user creates his design, the tool optimizes the placement of parts on existing plates and provides alerts if there is insufficient material, with suggestions for material substitutions (for example, using 1 millimeter thick yellow acrylic instead of 1 mm red acrylic). Manufactured acts as an interface that integrates with existing design tools and is compatible with both 2D and 3D CAD software such as AutoCAD, SolidWorks and even Adobe Illustrator.
In the future, the team hopes to include more advanced properties of materials, such as how strong or flexible they should be. The team says they can envision Fabricaide being used in shared maker spaces as a way to reduce waste. A user might see, for example, 10 people trying to use a particular material and then switch to another material for their design to conserve resources.
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This story has been republished courtesy of MIT News (web.mit.edu/newsoffice/), a popular news site about MIT research, innovation and education.
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