A new system from researchers at MIT and the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya in Israel automatically turns CAD files into visual models that users can modify in real time. Once the design meets the user’s specifications, he or she hits the print button to send it to a 3D printer.

The process, dubbed Fab Forms, begins with a design created by a CAD user. The system then sweeps through a range of values for the design’s parameters, calculating the resulting geometries and storing them in a database.

For each of the geometries, the system also runs a battery of tests, specified by the designer. To save time, the researchers distributed the tasks among servers in the cloud.

In their experiments, the researchers used eight designs, including a high-heeled shoe, a chess set, a toy car, and a coffee mug. The system samples enough values of the design parameters to offer a good approximation of all the available options.

The system generates a user interface, a Web page that can be opened in an ordinary browser. The interface consists of a central window, which displays a 3D model of an object, and a group of sliders, which vary the parameters of the object’s design. The system automatically eliminates the parameter values that lead to unprintable or unstable designs, so the sliders are restricted to valid designs.

Moving one of the sliders — changing the height of the shoe’s heel, say, or the width of the mug’s base — sweeps through visual depictions of the associated geometries, in real time.

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