The introduction of new materials, new manufacturing methods (like 3D printing), and advanced computational models have changed the way designers and engineers go about their work. Researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Drexel University hope to develop new computational tools that combine computing, materials, and manufacturing advancements to better account for the complexity of new products that are manufactured in non-traditional ways using advanced materials.
Armed with an $800,000 grant from the National Science Foundation, Vadim Shapiro (a professor of mechanical engineering and computer sciences at UW-Madison) and William Regli (professor of engineering and computer science at Drexel University) will attempt to tackle what they refer to as the “informatics of making.”
The goal is to better match computational design tools with materials science. “If I want to design an object that has variable material properties, on a 3D printer, the tools just don’t exist,” says Regli, associate dean of research at Drexel’s iSchool, College of Information Science & Technology. “What you’re making is more than a shape; it’s how the shape responds to its physical environment—for example, how it acts under certain forces.”
A computational language that can express the data needed to additively manufacture an object could also help advance “maker” culture, according to the documentation the team submitted when it applied for the grant:
The objective of this research project is to establish a universal formal computational model for the information that flows from design into additive manufacturing. This model plays a role similar to that of the Church-Turing model that underlies general computation. It describes part geometry and materials while connecting to the physics that underlies a part. The computational model is necessary to embody complex information and enable new behaviors in ways that existing tools and technologies cannot accommodate.