A New Dimension in Digital Fabrication
|The Offset Fabbing process in action. An individual pattern is formed of a thin film resting on a supporting carrier. This pattern is then brought into contact with the growing body of the object being made, and bonded in precise position. Finally, the carrier is removed to make way for attachment of the ongoing succession of patterns.|
Offset Fabbing turns the process of digital fabrication inside-out in order to simplify and speed it up. An Offset Fabber breaks up the 3-D fabrication process into two separate 2-D steps: the formation of a sequence of thin patterns representing cross sections of the desired object to be built, and the successive bonding of these patterns to one another to form the required shape and structure. Offset Fabbing takes advantage of 500 years of technology development in the mature 2-D printing industry to do its 3-D magic with precision, speed, and amazing economy.
Offset Fabbing brings a whole set of operating advantages to digital fabrication that were previously unheard of:
- The speed of working with preformed film materials and running parallel pattern formation and bonding stages.
- Material versatility, allowing fabrication in plastics, metals, ceramics, and advanced composites, either one at a time or side-by-side.
- A clean, dry operating environment, allowing the formation of hollow voids and the embedding or casting of specialty materials into the fabricated structure in process.
- The ability to scale the process up to build very large objects. Large objects can be made in thicker materials with angled edges, allowing very high-speed and smooth-surfaced fabrication.
|An automotive car-body model made in the Offset Fabber prototype in the laboratory of Ennex Corporation. [Design data courtesy Viewpoint Datalabs International.]|
The Offset Fabbing process has been implemented in a working prototype by Ennex Corporation, an innovative technology development company founded by Marshall Burns. Burns is a well-known authority on digital fabrication. He is the author of Automated Fabrication (Prentice Hall, 1993) and has spoken about fabbers at conferences throughout the U.S., Europe, and Japan.
Ennex Corporation is currently seeking qualified parties to license the Offset Fabbing technology and bring digital fabricators based on it to market. For further information, please contact Ennex at or (805) 451-4507.
Why Offset Fabbing?
With so many rapid prototyping technologies on the market today, you may be asking, Who needs another one? Why should I think about getting involved in a new, unproven technology, when people can just go out and buy a good, working fabber from an established vendor?
There are many important reasons you should be interested in Ennex Corporations Offset Fabbing technology. And all of them stem from one central issue:
In a world of high-tech fabbers, using fancy lasers, toxic chemicals, and complicated parameter settings, an Offset Fabber is a breath of fresh air. Its a simple two-step process of cut and paste. And instead of a big, expensive laser, the cutting is done by a tiny knife blade with a replacement cost of $15! The cutting and pasting are done by a combination of ordinary, off-the-shelf components adapted from the 500-year-old printing industry. The genius of the process is in combining these simple elements in a new, patented way to build 3-dimensional models, prototypes, and, with further materials development, actually usable products.
How will this simplicity translate into real, economic advantages for users of Offset Fabbers? Again, there are many ways, but here is a sampling of some of the most important:
- Fast. Imagine a high-speed label applicator, stamping successive labels out one on top of another. Thats an Offset Fabber. This is the best hope yet for blazing speed in digital fabrication.
- Safe and Clean, using ordinary pressure sensitive materials like those found in Scotch Tape. There are no lasers, toxic chemicals, fumes, hot surfaces, or other dangers to worry about.
- Dependable, unattended operation, because the simplicity of the process allows it to be fully automated at low cost.
- Full Market Range, from inexpensive office units to huge, industrial fabbers stamping out full-size car-body and boat-hull models.
- Broad Material Range. Development has been conducted on feed tapes made from metals, ceramics, and advanced aerospace composites. Ultimately, almost any material can be used, as long as it can be formed into a film and undergo some kind of bonding from layer to layer.
Offset Fabbers could become a mainstream tool for fabricating models, prototypes, and, later, actual products. They are fast, inexpensive, versatile machines that open tremendous new opportunities in manufacturing, education, and medicine. In a world becoming crowded with complicated rapid prototyping technologies, Offset Fabbing is a refreshing step back to simplicity.
The Offset Fabber prototype operated in the Ennex development laboratory has been used to build a number of models from CAD data. Here are some example objects made in the fabber prototype. (Photos by Neil Jackson, Madison Communications, Dexter Michigan.)
This accurate rendition of the body exterior of the 1993 Chevrolet Camaro shows exquisite detail of the lighting hardware, wheels, and other embellishments, including the spoiler. This is an example of an application of fabbers to design models, allowing engineers and designers to test their concepts in physical models before committing them to expensive tooling for production. The horizontal pattern of lines in this model is due to registration inconsistencies in the operation of the Fabber prototype, a problem which will be corrected with further development. [Design data courtesy Viewpoint Datalabs.]
This artistic computer sculpture was designed in AutoCAD AME, a popular three-dimensional computer design program, for output on the fabber. Fabbers allow artists and designers to represent complex shapes quickly and easily. Note the manifold symmetry in this sculpture which would be difficult to produce accurately by carving or other manual techniques. The colors are integral to the fabrication materials used, and so did not require any painting or other surface treatment. They were generated automatically in the fabrication process, and may be precisely controlled by the specifications of the design created by the artist or engineer.
This intricate model shows the ability of an Offset Fabber to generate multiple colors within individual fabrication layers, a unique capability among todays digital fabrication processes. The curved and aparallel grooves in the interior region of the ball also demonstrate the ability to build unusual shapes without the need for special tooling.
The initial public announcement of Offset Fabbing, shortly after the first patent issued in 1996, discusses the technical foundation of the technology and several applications that have been tested in the Ennex laboratories.
Offset Fabbing is protected by three issued patents, with a standing policy of infringement abatement insurance.
Click on the following links to download complete text and images of the Offset Fabbing patents.