A new software product invented at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and developed by the spinoff company Ulendo has the potential to enable 3-D printers to work at much higher speeds without worrying about vibrations slowing down the process or warping the parts, as is the case with typical 3-D printers.
Launched this week at the RAPID + TCT Conference at the Huntington Place in Detroit, the software serves as a translator between the commands that would print the part in a perfect world, and how the machine needs to compensate for vibrations in the real world. It works for printers that mechanically move a printhead.
“If you want to reduce vibration in a moving object, most times you can do that by slowing down. But as 3-D printing is already very slow, that solution creates another problem,” says Chinedum Okwudire, associate professor of mechanical engineering at U-M and founder of Ulendo. “Our solution allows you to print fast without sacrificing quality.”
As a result, printers could double their speed without consuming much more energy, potentially reducing the cost per printed part as well. The Ulendo software is called FBS, which stands for Filtered B Splines. That technical name refers to the mathematical function Okwudire’s team used to translate the machine commands from the ideal expectation to commands that would compensate for vibration in the 3D printer.
“Say you want a 3-D printer to travel straight, but due to vibration, the motion travels upward. The FBS algorithm tricks the machine by telling it to follow a path downward, and when it tries to follow that path, it travels straight,” says Okwudire.
Beginning at U-M as a professor in 2011, Okwudire designed the software that could overcome machine vibrations. Then in 2017, a mechanical engineering graduate student from Okwudire’s lab implemented the software on a 3-D printer.
When the research was highlighted with a YouTube video, commenters made the market for the solution apparent, and Ulendo was born through Innovation Partnerships at U-M. Much of the commercial development was funded through an MTRAC grant from the Michigan Economic Development Corp. and a Small Business Innovation Research grant from the National Science Foundation.
“Members of the 3-D printing industry have the same jaw-dropping reaction I had when I first heard about how this technology results in a printer operating at two times the speed and 10 times the acceleration,” says Brenda Jones, CEO of Ulendo.
Okwudire and his team will work on expanding the algorithm to other kinds of machines, including robots, machine tools, and more types of 3-D printers.
U-M has a financial interest in Ulendo.