The construction of physical models offers a unique support to the creative process. However, manufacturing such models using traditional methods is a bit strenuous. Not only is it time-consuming, but it is also the cause of material waste. Furthermore, and since there is no way to preview the outcome, the process may require the production of several versions until the desired result is achieved. Computation, however, currently allows us to automate many of the steps required to produce a physical model, optimizing the manufacturing task and reducing material waste.
Laser cutting is an example of digital fabrication that considerably helps model making. Here, a laser beam is used to cut diverse materials with high-quality finishing. To that end, the laser (or the material) is mechanically moved according to the cut path. To avoid human contact with the harmful laser beam and, at the same time, speed up the cutting process and increase its precision, it is advantageous to have the mechanical movements controlled by a computer. To that end, the cutting path is computed and sent to the laser cutter in a digital format, which then autonomously controls the laser device and the mechanical movement so that it cuts along the pre-determined cutting path. The digital format is, in most cases, just a set of instructions that the fabrication machine interprets by starting, moving, and stopping its various mechanical actuators.
In 3D printing, a print head follows a digital path to deposit material using a process that resembles ink-jet printing, with the difference that, after the first passage, the plate where the material is being deposited is lowered (or the print head is raised) and the process is repeated, building a 3D object layer by layer. This process can hold different kinds of materials, such as plastic, glass, or even metal. The raw material can be a filament, heated in the print head and solidified at normal temperature, or a powder, which is bound together through a sintering process.
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