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With so many new companies coming into 3D printing and modelling, patents can tell us a lot about future methods. In this same vein, Apple has obtained a patent for a 3D modelling technique that uses triangular tessellation to form shapes. The patent office has approved the method, which breaks smooth surfaces into little triangles that approximate the shape of the original model, on October 23, 2018. The Apple patent has certain unique features that could be very useful to 3D printing enthusiasts.

The software truly shines when it comes to infill design, i.e. little patterns inside an object retain its rigidity. While infill is usually simpler, involving shapes or squiggles inside an object in a uniform way to keep the structure from collapsing, the tradition version creates the entire inside of the object uniformly, leading to cracking or brittleness in the finished product.

Apple’s version, instead, alters the shape of the internal infill to differently-sized triangles. Depending on the print, the software varies up the sizes of these triangles, giving them a better overall form. This ensures that there is more infill on the edges of the object, conforming to their shape. Similarly, the system also smoothens out the edges of the print with the same parameters.

This isn’t Apple’s first foray into 3D printing tech. The Apple patent listed Michael R. Sweet, Senior Printing System Engineer at Apple Inc., Canada, as the sole inventor. He has previously patented at least 13 other 3D printing-related inventions, as well.

Apple & 3D Modelling

Apple Patent

Sweet describes the drawing he posted in the patent (as shown above), listing it’s importance. “In one embodiment, the triangles making up the triangular tessellations are fixed-size triangles. In another embodiment, the triangles making up the triangular tessellations are dynamically sized triangles. By way of example, small triangles could be used to form an object’s edges or other regions in which strength/support is needed. Larger triangles could be used to build-up or construct areas where strength/support is not as critical,” wrote Sweet in the patent.

The patent states the benefits of the the system as well. According to the literature, it can speed up printing considerably as the print head does not have to move back and forth. As a result, it only moves forward to make the triangular shapes, cutting a lot of time wastage. Similarly, it also allow for smoother surfaces and edges, as stated earlier.

While Apple are patenting a modelling technique for 3D printing, it doesn’t necessarily mean they developing a printer. Large companies tend to stack up useful patents for technologies as a means of maintaining the technological lead. It might be more likely that Apple is developing a software than them developing a printer. Regardless, many companies might be eager to adopt this method and form. Apple has a lot of model making experience due to their work with animation studios. It may come in handy in those areas, especially with all the growth in 3D printing tech among studios. at this point we can only speculate.

Featured image courtesy of Apple and Michael Sweet.

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