Objet has really done a great job pushing a variety of materials for their 3D printers, thus upping the utility of how they can be used. My question is what exactly makes a material "digital"? I get the ability to mix and tune the properties so that they can mimic more traditional materials. But how is that done in a digital fashion? Is there some sort of software algorithm that handles the finetuned mixing or is it a property in the material itself?
"Digital materials" is Objet's term. As Bradshaw is quoted as saying, they are combined digitally, meaning via computer--preprogrammed--during printing, versus making parts of a prototype separately, and mechanically combining them after printing. The point is that engineers can program the printer to print different material property combinations in different parts of the model, as Objet describes on the page at the link we gave in the article.
Thanks, Nadine. Actually, it's more than visual resemblance: with different material properties in different parts of the model that more closely resemble the product, the model does a better job of simulating form, fit and especially function.
I'm not sure these 3D printed prototypes, digital materials or not, are meant to be a full-on replacement for building a real working prototype with real materials. I think they are meant to be part of the process and help eliminate the need for building so many different variations of physical working prototypes, which can be costly and time consuming. These methods are far more efficient and less expensive compared with building expensive tooling.
There seems to be some semantic confusion. Form and fit are more than visual--if a part fits with another part, that's not visual, that's mechanical. To do so, it must be the right form. Functionality of a part is only visual if the part's looks have something to do with its function. It's not the materials that simulate anything, it's the part made with those materials, which with 3D technology can be a lot more than a mockup.
Beth, thanks for that succinct explanation. A production sample/working prototype made with actual materials would be the best test, but that's not always possible, due to the cost of tooling alone, not to mention the high cost of small, non-production amounts of materials, for example, or the time involved. Which is why the 3D prototype/model industry got started: saving time and money and getting a lot closer to an understanding of the end-product.
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