Materialise and HP are exploring the possibilities of voxel technology to produce parts that have different properties on a volume-level. Together we created a voxel-printed part that visualizes the stresses that would impact a metal part. The 3D model was printed at HP’s R&D facility and sets a first example for the industry.
Voxel technology: what and why?
Voxel technology is a buzzword. But what exactly is a voxel and what are the benefits of this new technology? Just like how a pixel is the smallest identifiable element of a 2D image, a voxel (Volumetric Pixel Element) is the smallest element in a 3D design or 3D-printed part. While pixels primarily only contain color properties, a voxel can contain multiple properties like color, flexibility and conductivity. Similar to how the combination of pixels forms a complete picture with gradient colors, the combination of voxels can form a part with gradient properties.
The term voxel is used to describe these elements both in a computer-designed model as well as in a printed part. Voxels have the shape of cubes. To convert them to a printed part, the 3D model and all its voxels get sliced. This stack of cubic voxels can then be deposited layer by layer, and the complete 3D-printed part with its specific gradient properties comes to life.
Most printing machines and software programs can only process surface-related information. The advantages of using voxels for 3D Printing is that you can assign specific properties to volumetric elements. You can print in multiple colors and multiple materials. This opens up new applications. For instance, the object in one material can be hard on the inside and soft on the outside. You can measure the degree of wear by observing when a new color appears. Or you can print a different kind of material inside a part.
At the moment, however, voxel technology is still in the early stages of development. Materialise is anticipating the future capabilities of voxel data, allowing our users to process voxel data and successfully print parts. This demo part is a first success story: Materialise designed and processed the voxel data, which was then printed on the HP Fusion Jet machine with different colors that visualize the internal stress points of the part.
Software suited for processing voxel data
Materialise imported the demo design in simulation software to check where the stresses were indicated. The various stress zones were then converted to colored zones both on the surface as well as inside the part. Using the Materialise Magics 3D Print Suite, especially Magics and the Build Processor, the design was made watertight and ready for 3D Printing. The result was a part that demonstrated on a volumetric level which stresses the final part would have. When printing the final part, the designer then knows what beam diameters should be adapted to ensure the required strength. In the case study: “A 63% Lighter Titanium Aerospace Part” we explain how we printed this part in Titanium.
The strong collaboration between Materialise and HP leads to innovation in new domains and drives the industry into unexplored directions. With developing voxel technology, many new opportunities for intriguing applications will arise in the manufacturing industry. And a good voxel 3D printing machine can be used to its best advantage with advanced software as its sparring partner.