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Marine Loyen - 3/12/2015

The Shapeforge project team makes 3D printing simple with IceSL


In 2012, Sylvain Lefebvre, a Research Associate working in the ALICE team at the Inria Nancy - Grand Est Research Centre, obtained a five-year European Research Council (ERC) grant to develop systems to make 3D printing more accessible. Together with one of his doctoral researchers, Jérémie Dumas, he presents IceSL, a software tool incorporating many innovations.

What is the Shapeforge project aiming for ?

 SL- We want to make it simple to model objects for 3D printing. The idea is to provide designers with systems that are both easy to use and compatible with relatively low-cost 3D printers. Existing 3D printers can produce objects with very complex shapes. The problem is really how to model them, in other words, to design them in 3D. You need to factor in the limitations of the printer, which may, for example, require the material to be a minimum thickness, and those related to the object being designed, which must do what it is designed to do. For example, a table must stand on its legs and bear a certain load, and a vase must be able to be filled with water without falling over and spilling everywhere. It's harder than you might think to combine all these requirements. Our work focuses on by-example modelling systems which perform all these tasks.

How does modelling by example work ? 

chaises IceSL Jonàs Martínez, Jérémie Dumas

SL -   Imagine I want to make a chair with openwork sides (see image). I have a simplified model of a chair (bottom left), and the pattern for the openwork. I also need to ensure that the chair stands upright and can bear the weight of a person sitting on it. Using our system, you can incorporate the aesthetic requirements (chair / openwork frame) while also factoring in the forces to be exerted on the object. Our algorithm searches through all the possibilities and finds the solution which best meets all these criteria. In this specific case, we see that the openwork on the chair, which must withstand a certain pressure, is less ornate in certain places in order to make it more solid. It would be very difficult to make this sort of object without our algorithm.

What is he advantage of the IceSL software developed by your team? 

JD-  To execute a 3D print from a model, you normally have to start with a mesh, i.e. a document that describes the surface of the object in the form of a cloud of points and triangles. The 3D representation then translates this mesh into instructions sent to the printer. Generating the mesh can be a tricky operation, especially if the shape of the object is very complex or if you are creating it by combining a number of different objects. IceSL enables the user to bypass this step. The software creates "slices" from a 3D representation in real time. Slices are basically a list of instructions to the printer. Slicing indicates the path the printer head must follow to deposit the material.

IceSL also makes modelling simpler - the user can design objects by combining existing geometric shapes. For example, this second image shows how a figure (the robot) can be combined with a cup to make a whole new object. IceSL affords high performance for such combinations.

Combinaisons IceSL Maker Fair Robot par MAKE, Coffee cup by tioguerra - CC BY-SA 3.0

What are the potential industriel applications of IceSL? 

SL-   The software can be very useful for manufacturing mechanical parts, for instance, a robotic claw. There is a great deal of interest from the medical sector, mainly for making prosthetic limbs, since this often requires combining 3D patient data (obtained using a scanner) with the prosthetic limb which must be precisely adapted to the patient. With IceSL, you can visualise these steps very rapidly and adjust the shape of the prosthetic limb. Once you have finalised the model, you can send it directly to the 3D printer, without switching from the program.

Sylvain Lefebvre is a Research Associate at Inria Nancy - Grand Est Research Centre, and a member of the ALICE team. In 2012, he was awarded an ERC Starting Grant for the ShapeForge project, with funding for five years.

Jérémie Dumas is a doctoral student at Inria Nancy - Grand Est Research Centre, working as part of the Shapeforge team. He has been very involved in the development of IceSL which can now be used online :


ALICE is a joint Inria, CNRS and Université de Lorraine research project-team. 

Keywords: IceSL ALICE Jérémie Dumas ERC 2012 Europe Sylvain Lefebvre ShapeForge Impression 3D