3D Printers

Apple granted patent for faster 3D printers

Global consumer electronics company Apple Inc. has been granted a patent for what the company hopes will allow the development of faster 3D printers.

Giving the .stl backronym “Standard Triangle Language” a whole new meaning, the patent experiments with an alternate deposition technique called “triangular tesellation.”

Could this be the last piece in the puzzle that Apple needs to announce its upcoming 3D printer?

Deposition diagram of triangular tessellation. Image via USPTO/Apple

History of the Apple 3D printer

Rumors of Apple developing a 3D printer started in 2015, when the company was granted a patent for a full-color FDM/FFF system. Following this, in 2017, Apple patented “Method for instructing a 3D printing system” and subsequently a further application for the aforementioned full color 3D printer.

The latest Apple full color 3D printer patent, dated 2018, lists Geoffrey Stahl and Howard A. Miller as inventors, who are also frequently named in previous filings.

Michael R.  Sweet, Senior Printing System Engineer at Apple Inc., Canada, is listed as the sole inventor of the new triangular tesellation patent. To date Sweet, often alongside Miller, is listed on around 13 different 3D printer patents for the company.

Triangular tessellation

Sweet and Apple’s latest patent expressly relates to “Systems, methods, and computer readable media to improve the operation of three dimensional (3D) printer systems.”

The abstract goes on to state that the goal of said techniques is to cut the print time and material consumption of 3D printers. “More particularly,” Sweet continues, “a print-head motion exhibiting a triangular support pattern (aka triangular tessellation) is shown to be more efficient than circular print head motions used in current 3D printers in terms of speed and/or material usage.”

To clarify, the “triangular support pattern” detailed by the patent does not relate exclusively to support structures typically required in FFF/FDM 3D printing. Rather the word “support” here refers to the infill pattern needed for the general construction of a whole object. In the summary this is detailed as follows:

“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,” as pictured below.

Dynamically sized triangles in triangular tessellation used to make a basic square. Image via USPTO/Apple
Dynamically sized triangles in triangular tessellation used to make a basic square. Image via USPTO/Apple

“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.”

Mesh to print?

The patent refers to these triangles as print tiles. In relation to the tiles, an assumption could made that an object’s 3D printed triangles are made to directly relate to respective mesh in the .stl file However, though the size of Apple’s triangles change, to match the triangular mesh of a file the interior angles of the shapes would also have to change as can be seen in the 3D mesh of a dolphin below.

Dolphin .stl triangle mesh. Image via Chrschn/Wikimedia Commons 
Dolphin .stl triangle mesh. Image via Chrschn/Wikimedia Commons

Though multiple requests for further information have been made to Apple the company, understandably, remains tight lipped on the possibility of its 3D printer. However, we’re not ruling out its appearance at upcoming industry trade shows yet.

The full document for Sweet and Apple’s “Using triangular tessellation in 3D printing” patent (No. 10,105,905, granted October 23, 2018) can be found online here.

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Featured image shows a diagram from “Using triangular tessellation in 3D printing” via USPTO/Apple