How GPUs Can Kick 3D Printing Industry Into High Gear

by Tony Kontzer

Three-dimensional printing has opened up new possibilities in fields like manufacturing, architecture, engineering and construction.

But when the objects to be printed become complex, limitations kick in. Challenges in 3D printing include multiple colors, differing densities and the use of a mix of materials.

At last month’s GPU Technology Conference, HP Labs and NVIDIA described how they’ve worked together to overcome these challenges using NVIDIA’s new GVDB Voxel open source software development kit.

Jun Zeng, principal scientist for HP Labs, and Rama Hoetzlein, lead architect for GVDB Voxels, presented a statue of a human figure with wings that combined these challenging elements.

Simplified, their goal was to be able to 3D print the statue while adjusting the density of materials to account for external forces. That increased structural integrity where it’s needed, while minimizing the amount and weight of material needed to produce it.

GVDB Voxels printed a 3D statue (L) of a complex image (R) with minimal materials and structural support.
GVDB Voxels printed a 3D statue (L) of a complex image (R) with structural support and minimal material.

Zeng told a roomful of GTC attendees that HP Labs had started using GPUs to more quickly process 3D printing voxels (volumetric pixels — essentially pixels in 3D space). He anticipates that printing technology and scale will rapidly increase computing demands in the future.

NVIDIA’s GVDB Voxels SDK has eased the complexity of 3D printing workflows by offering a platform for large-scale voxel simulation and high-quality ray-traced visualizations. And it allows for continuous data manipulation throughout the process.

“Iteration can happen during infilling, or while analyzing and determining stress,” said Hoetzlein.

Hoetzlein said the SDK is designed for simple efficient computation, simulation and rendering, even when there’s sparse volumetric data. It includes a compute API that generates high-resolution data and requires minimal memory footprint, and a rendering API that supports development of CUDA and NVIDIA OptiX pathways, allowing users to write custom rendering kernels.

The researchers’ effort started with a polygonal statue, which was subject to a stress simulation before the GVDB Voxels took over. The object is converted into a model made of small voxel cubes. Then the software optimizes the in-filling structure, varying the density based on the results of the stress simulation.

What they found was that combining GVDB Voxels with the latest Pascal architecture GPUs generated results 50 percent faster than the previous generation of GPUs, and up to 10x faster than CPU techniques. The SDK makes this possible by storing data only at the surface of the object. That reduces memory requirements without sacrificing resolution.

Zeng said that oftentimes the limitations of 3D printing devices dictate what designers can do. With the NVIDIA GVDB Voxels SDK, designers gain new flexibility.

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