Computer Aspects of Solid Freeform Fabrication: Geometry, Process Control, and Design

Crawford, Richard H.
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Solid Freefonn Fabrication (SFF) is a class of manufacturing technologies aimed at the production of mechanical components without part-specific tooling or process planning. Originally used for creating modelsfor visualization, many industrial users of SFF technologies are realizing the greater potentialofSFF as legitimate manufacturing processes for producing patterns and, in some cases, Thus, SFF is becoming an important aspect of the product realization process in these industries. Solid Freefonn Fabrication arose from the dream of "push-button" prototyping, in which solid reproductions of three-dimensional geometric models are created automatically under computer control. Perhaps more than any other class of manufacturing technologies, computer software development has been an integral part of the emergence of SFF. As SFF technologies evolve toward the ability to create functional parts, computer issues gain more importance. This paper discusses three aspects of software design for SFF: processing of geometric data, global and local control of SFF processes, and computer-based analysis and design for SFF manufacturing. The discussion of geometric processing issues focuses on accuracy and completeness of input models, and the algorithms required to process such models. The interplay between the physics of SFF processing and the desired output geometry is discussed in terms of the development of model-based control algorithms for SFF. These two areas, geometric processing and control, are necessary for the practical implementation of any SFF technology. However, for SFF to realize its potential as an alternative for manufacturing functional parts, engineers must be provided with analysis and design tools for predicting mechanical properties, ensuring dimensional accuracy, choosing appropriate materials, selecting process parameter values, etc. For each of these three different but related areas of software design, the state-of-theart is assessed, contemporary research is summarized, and future needs are outlined.