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Slicing procedures for layered

manufacturing techniques
A Dolenc and I M&kel&

intermediary slices that are subsequently used in an L M T

The 1980s witnessed the emergence of new manufacturing process. In this case, a 3D model is never evaluated. On
t'echnologies that build parts layer by layer. These layered- the other hand, some processes cannot effectively handle
manufacturing techniques can significantly reduce the design-to- sliced models, or '2 1/3 D' models, and so a faceted model
product leadtimes. The paper overviews several procedures for
is created and then sliced again. The reason is that, in
generating the layers from a CADmodel such that the resulting
part can be accurately manufactured using LMT. some cases, it is important to have the ability to position
the model arbitrarily in the workspace of the machine,
Keywords: stereolithography, sectioning and this cannot be done with sliced models.
Typically, a 3D CAD system, a surface or solid modeUer,
is used to create the model. The most common step that
follows is that of faceting the model. The current de facto
data-exchange standard for representing faceted models
An example of a layered-manufacturing technique (LMT) is STL 5. This format requires significant redundancy, and
is the stereolithography apparatus (SLA) (see Figure 1). it is restricted to triangles. Normally, each vendor supplies
the software tools to perform the slicing of faceted models,
The model to be manufactured is sliced by a set of parallel
planes. The space between two adjacent slices is called a and the format for representing the slices is proprietary.
layer. Initially, the elevator is located at a distance from There is a trend for L M T vendors to develop interfaces
the surface of the liquid that is equal to the thickness of based on slicing surface models together with major CAD
the first, bottom-most layer. The laser beam scans the vendors. One of the objectives is to eliminate the need
surface, following the contours of the slice. The interior always to generate intermediary, faceted models. Therefore,
of the contour is then hatched using a hatch pattern. The the interest in correctly slicing models for L M T is
liquid is a photopolymer that, when it is exposed to the growing.
laser beam, solidifies, or is cured. The elevator is moved The purpose of this paper is not to explain how to
downwards, and the subsequent layers are produced in compute the slices per se. We will assume that, given a
a similar way. Finally, the part is removed from the vat, model ~ ' , there exists an algorithm d that can compute
and the liquid that is still trapped in the interior is usually the intersection curve c.g between ~ ' and a plane equation
cured in a special oven. E within a given tolerance t. Our intention is to explore
Although the processes can differ significantly, e.g. by how to use the algorithm ~ to obtain slices that can be
the use of materials other than photopolymers, the used to manufacture J / a s accurately as possible. As a
underlying theme is the same. The characteristics of the corollary, the techniques to be explained are only
various commercially available systems and the promising applicable to the cases in which the input model is a 3D
ones under development can be found elsewhere 1-4. model.
The transfer of data to these processes is shown in the A typical problem with a naive usage of algorithm d
simplified state diagram in Figure 2. All the state is shown in Figure 3, in which flat areas, areas parallel
transitions in Figure 2 are possible. For instance, one can to the slicing direction, are not properly handled, notably
take slices from medical imaging systems, and interpolate the bottom of the model. Only the outline of the model
(a kayak-like object) is shown. The broken lines represent
the location of slices generated by planes that are
Institute of Industrial Automation, Department of Computer Science, perpendicular to the z axis (and, thus, to the paper). As
Helsinki University of Technology, Otakaari l, SF-02150, Espoo,
Finland explained above, the bottom-most layer is the first one
Paper received"28 August 1992. Revised."6 March 1993 to be manufactured, and it contributes one layer to the

0010-4485194/020119-08 1994 Butterworth-Heinemann Ltd

Computer-Aided Design Volume 26 Number 2 February 1994 119
Slicing procedures for layered manufacturing techniques: A Dolenc and I Makel&


Lenses 1 Contouroftheslice
uv-laser beam
Object f
Urface of / Hatchpa~ern

liquid polymer

Figure 1 Stereolithographyapparatus

Facettod Model
(e.g. STL)
Sliced Model
Internal representation
of Application Programs = ~" LMTProcess

Surface Model
(e.g. IGES or VDAFS)

Figure 2 State transitions of model manufactured via LMT

z-ax/s in the model. Therefore, all models are usually verified,

and, it is to be hoped, corrected, prior to slicing.
Correcting models is a complex and interesting problem,
but we shall not delve into it in this paper. Instead, the
interested reader is directed to the literature 6-8.
........ (b) xy-pS- - - I

Figure 3 Naive slicing procedure of kayak-like object; (a) original Statement of problem
model, (b) resulting part
As generally stated, the problem is to manufacture a part
as accurately as possible with a minimal number of layers
part. As we will learn in the sequel, the correct procedure given a specific L M T process. In this sense, minimizing
in this case is to discard the bottom-most slice. the number of slices is usually of less importance than
In principle, the model to be manufactured must accuracy. Slicing can affect the quality of the resulting
represent one or more closed, nonintersecting objects, or part in several ways.
solids. Each slice then contains closed, nonintersecting, Parts usually exhibit a visible staircase effect (see
simple contours. It is usually assumed that the normal Figures 3 and ll), and, in many applications, posttreatment
vectors have a consistent orientation, e.g. that they point is necessary. The smoothness can be improved by either
towards the outside of the model. If this is not the case, the removal of material, e.g. using sand blasting or
then it is not possible to generate the internal structure grinding, or the addition of material. Therefore, if a
of slices during manufacturing, e.g. the hatching may process allows a range of layer thicknesses, or thicknesses
solidify regions outside the interior of the model, or it for short, then it is desirable to restrict the staircase effect
may not solidify regions inside the interior of the model to a user-specified tolerance.
when it should. In practice, most models contain gaps It is also desirable to compute the slices taking into
or cracks caused by errors in the original model, consideration the type of posttreatment that will be
inadequate faceting procedures, or intrinsic limitations performed, if any. The addition of material and removal

120 Computer-Aided Design Volume 26 Number 2 February 1994

Slicing procedures for layered manufacturing techniques: A Dolenc and I M~.kel&

of material are mutually exclusive, and, therefore, it is

important that the resulting part be consistent with
the posttreatment used. Posttreatment is particularly
important when the L M T part is used in a chain of
processes that results in a tool.
One must keep in mind the practical problems faced
by the machine operator. Currently, some vendors supply
software that requires several parameters to be supplied
each time the thickness changes, and a tall model can Figure 5 Uniform slicing with thickness 1; (a) original model, (b)
resulting part
require hundreds or even thousands of layers. As a result,
it may be necessary to limit the number of times the
thickness changes. clarity, only a simplified outline viewed from the
Another problem is that of not omitting features from perspective of a person standing on the xy plane is shown.
the model. Usually, fiat areas (areas parallel to the slicing
direction) and features, or 'peaks', such as the bottom
and the top of the model must be accurately reproduced, UNIFORM SLICING
either to achieve tolerances, or for aesthetic reasons.
Finally, the user expects the slicer to determine the The simplest slicing procedure uses only one parameter,
bounds of the model such that it is unnecessary to specify the layer thickness l (see Figure 5). Although this is not
the initial and final slices. This is straightforward in the sufficient to deal with the problems stated in the first
case of faceted models, but more sophisticated procedures subsection, it is useful for debugging the model, very
are required for surface models. simple to use, and the easiest to implement. In fact, some
As mentioned above, we shall not discuss how the slices processes cannot handle variable thicknesses, and, in this
should be evaluated, i.e. algorithms such as those relating case, l = l m i n = Lmax"
to plane-surface intersections will not be discussed. Our Notice that the first slice at the bottom must be
goal is to explain how to use such algorithms for discarded; otherwise, it will contribute to one undesirable
manufacturing purposes. Without loss of generality, we layer to the part, and small details may be lost, such as
assume that slices are computed along the z axis. The the 'peak' on the upper left of Figure 5a. Some fiat areas
notation C(S) denotes the contours of a slice S. Contours are not accurately reproduced, and the staircase effect is
such as points and open lines that have only a boundary seen along the segment PQ. When variable thickness is
but no interior are called degenerate contours. The values possible, the user can have better control of tolerances
lmi. and Lm,x denote the minimum and maximum by allowing there to be different values for different
thicknesses, respectively, with 0 </mi. ~<Lmax"They specify intervals of the model, but our objective is to minimize
the limits of a given LMT. the need for user interaction.
In the remaining sections of the paper, we use as an
example the object shown in Figure 4. However, for

First, we define intuitively what is meant by a peak in

the model. Henceforth, the notation Si means a slice
computed at z = zi, unless stated otherwise. Consider a
model with no flat areas, and assume that it has been
sliced with infinite precision. Take a slice S~ and a contour
C e C(S~) that is not degenerate. If there exists a slice S~
with zj<z~ such that C becomes degenerate, e.g. it
collapses to a point, then the contours in the interval
[z~-l, z~] are said to be a peak, where l is the layer
thickness. Similarly, one can define peaks at Sk with
2k < 2j.
It is desirable to use thinner layers when peaks are
detected. The simplest heuristic procedure is to detect
changes in the number of contours in adjacent slices Si
and S i + 1. The slice Si +1 is discarded, and slicing resumes
with an alternative, user-supplied thickness lp until Si+ 1
is reached again. A straightforward improvement is to
partition the contours into three sets, those with positive
normals only, negative normals only, and mixed normals,
Figure 4 Example 3D triangulated model and detect changes in their cardinality.

Computer-Aided Design Volume 26 Number 2 February 1994 121

Slicing procedures for layered manufacturing techniques: A Dolenc and I M~ikelf

This procedure is shown in Figure 6. When the slice practice (see Figure 7). More robust procedures can
S~+~ is evaluated, a peak is detected, and one layer is be used to minimize this problem, such as pairing
added between it and S~. corresponding contours in adjacent layers, or computing
Geometries that cause these heuristics to fail are easy intermediary slices which are subsequently discarded if
to find, but they are not likely to occur too often in not needed. However, usually only correctness within a
tolerance can be guaranteed.

Y2:t:::'I:::: .... . . . . . . . . .

Now we turn our attention to flat areas, or areas parallel

to the slicing direction. Identifying the areas in a slice
. . . .

that are flat is not only important to preserve tolerances,

Figure 6 Using thinner layers when peaks are detected but it can also simplify and improve the postprocessing
for some L M T processes. In particular, when using an
SLA, it is usually desirable to use a different hatch pattern
z-ax/~ in such areas.
The flat areas split the z axis into several intervals
. . . . . . . . . . . ~.
Zmin= F0, F 1 , F 2 . . . . . Fn, F , + I = z . . . . where Fi denotes a

I flat area at some z = z,. Sometimes, we use this notation

to denote the value z,, and the meaning should be clear
from the context.,
First, let us classify the flat areas into positive and
negative areas, depending on their normal directions (see
Figure 8). The notations F + and F - denote positive and
negative flat areas, respectively (the terms up-facing and
down-facing are sometimes used).
Next, consider a negative flat area at F t. To
manufacture F f accurately, it is necessary that (a) an
additional slice F) be placed above F f such that
Undetectedpeak xy.plane 0 < / m i n ~ F)-- F f <~L . . . . and (b) the areas in F f that
correspond to the negative flat areas must be discarded.
Figure 7 Undetected peaks In Figure 9, the contour F is discarded, and the final
contour for the slice F j- is C.

I Positive
C a s e 1: 1= imin = L m a x

In the case of uniform slicing, the flat areas usually lie

Z ...... N#ga,~v in-between two adjacent slices. In Figure 10 (on the left),
the flat area F 7 is manufactured with an error of
I ................ Ncgtaga, E = F f - Si, because the tinted area will be present in the
Z..axis resulting part. On the other hand, the tinted area to the
Figure 8 Flat areas split z axis into intervals right will be omitted. If E > 1/2, it is better to approximate

I n ~ r ~ r orP apj


xy.pku~ 11'
Figure 9 Contours; (a) side view of part P and slice at F j, (b) top view of contour of Fi (above), contour split into two parts (below), one of which
encloses negative fiat area

122 Computer-Aided Design Volume 26 Number 2 February 1994

Slicing procedures for layered manufacturing techniques: A Dolenc and I Mhkel&

F f using Si+ 2 by eliminating from C(S~+I) the area Thin layers usually occur when the last slice within an
determined by F. Adding the area F to C(S~+2) is, in interval is evaluated. Several approaches are possible in
practice, unnecessary. The resulting error is Si + ~- F f ~< this case. We have chosen to implement options that
I/2. allow the user to control the number of layers in which
In the case of positive flat areas, if Si + 1 - F f < F f - Si, the thickness deviates from both 1 and lp. For instance,
then the positive contours at Fj should be merged with the location of the floating slices can be adjusted to
the contours of S~+ 1. In conclusion, the error between account for the last, thin layer. Alternatively, the last slice
any two flat areas can be bounded by l, instead of 2l if can be discarded if the resulting layer is not too thick.
no appropriate action is taken. In the last case, all the slices or a subset of the slices in
the interval must be shifted.

Case 2: lmin ~ l ~ Lma x

If lmi n < L . . . . the user should have the option to specify
We now describe a method that allows the user to control
that flat areas be accurately reproduced. If F i is a positive
the staircase effect. The problem is shown in Figure 11.
flat area, it is sufficient to slice the model at that location.
In this case, the slicer must be given a range of
If F i is a negative flat area, an additional slice must be
thicknesses. The slicer determines the thickness of the
computed above at an appropriate location, and the
layer such that the cusp height c is within a user-specified
contours must be modified as explained in the previous
tolerance Cmax. The location of the next slice can be
sections. We call these added slices floatin9 slices.
estimated using the normals evaluated along the last slice.
The result is a collection of intervals [Fi, Fi+l] that
If N = (Nx, Nr, Nz) is the unit normal at a point P, then
must be sliced with a thickness l and an optional
C = c N must satisfy 1[C[[2 : C ~ C m a x. Since Cmax is given,
alternative thickness lp for peaks. The problem that we
the calculations are straightforward with l= Cmax/Nz, if
now have is that of layers that are too thin to be
N= 4=0. Otherwise, l = ~ . The estimated thickness is rain
manufactured. There are several instances of this
{L . . . . min {l}} evaluated along all the contours of the
problem, and we explain those we find most interesting.
slice. Values below Imi. could be discarded with a warning,
If the problem is caused by positive fiat areas that are
and l could be set to Imi,. In the sixth section, we
too close to each other, in other words F[+ 1 - Fi+ < Imin,
demonstrate how to 'improve' this estimate.
then an aceptable solution is to discard one of the slices
Because two kinds of cusp are distinguished by the
with a warning. Other solutions are possible, such as that
normal directions, one caused by a lack of material and
of substituting both slices by an 'average', as long as the
another caused by added material, it is possible to assign
layer below F [ does not become too thick, but general
different tolerances for each. Further, some users may
procedures along these lines can be difficult to implement
and error-prone. wish to assign different tolerances for the 'outside' and
'inside' surfaces, i.e. the cusps along the outer and inner
Care must be taken when slopes change abruptly, as
/ shown in Figure 12. In this case, the thickness is
~f "~ St~e (i1) -> recomputed using data gathered from slice Si + ,, resulting
Model ! in a thickness of h instead of H, with h < H.

"~ $lic (i) - -->
Once the slices are ready, there are several operations
Model that one would like to perform. These operations can be
Figure 10 Error in manufacturing negative (left)and positive(right) classified into three types.
fiat areas

! N

iii . . . . . . . . . . . . : C=sp/u,/g~

Figure 11 Staircase effectand cusp height c

Computer-Aided Design Volume 26 Number 2 February 1994 123

Slicing procedures for layered manufacturing techniques: A Dolenc and I M&kel~i

As mentioned in the first section, the slices may be acceptable as offsetting the original model, with the
incorrect, either because of errors in the original model, benefit of being easier to implement.
or inadequate conversion procedures. Therefore, corrective The offsetting of the contours of the slice can be used
procedures are needed to guarantee that the contours to compensate for the posttreatment operations mentioned
represent closed, simple, nonintersecting areas. in the first subsection, and to either obtain more accurate
Sometimes, it is desirable to alter the model being parts or use thicker layers. Fiyure 13 shows how the
manufactured. Instead of a part with a solid interior, it offsetting could be performed to compensate for a
may be preferable to manufacture just a 'shell', i.e. the posttreatment that required the addition of material to
same part consisting of a thin boundary and an 'empty' the resulting part. If the contours were composed of line
interior. A typical range for offsetting a solid to obtain segments, a simple implementation could move the points
a shell for lost wax casting is I-0.10, 0.25] mm. Usually, of the contour along the normal direction by the specified
when the model is represented using parametric surfaces, amount. This, however, is not a correct offset, and, for
this task is performed manually by the user, and it is comparison, Figure 14 shows how the approximate offset
therefore costly and time-consuming. Some research is compares with the true offset when the posttreatment
being done on performing such operations on faceted requires the removal of material. A better approach is to
models, and some RP vendors such as Cubital offer such evaluate additional points (points A, B and C on the top
functionalities in their systems that give acceptable right of Figure 14) to obtain a better approximation to
results. However, it would be interesting to investigate the true offset.
the possibility of performing the offsetting on the slices. If offsetting the contours is done during the slicing, as
Because, in this case, the quality of the interior surface shown in Figure 15, the estimated thicknesses used can
is of no importance, the results could, perhaps, be as be twice the estimated values mentioned in the fifth
section. In this case,, the points are moved in the normal
directions by half the estimated cusp height. Thus, one

~_ Slice( i + l )
can obtain the same accuracy with fewer layers. On the
other hand, if the offsetting is done after the slicing, one
obtains a more accurate part, as long as the normals are
still available.
Generating the true offset of contours composed of
line segments is not easy, and there are several problems
h that are not discussed in detail in this paper, such as the
handling of self intersections in the offset curve. For
Slice (i)
\ - L M T applications, the offset values for compensation for
posttreatment are usually relatively small, e.g. in the range
Figure 12 Backtrackingin adaptive slicing [0.10, 0.25] mm for the SLA, and 0.15 for the SOLIDER

z-~ P

~ y.axis
Figure 13 Compensatingfor posttreatment that requires addition of material

"" ~, P "I ~ ""-""" x-ar~

'~..4. C

' "~"Offs#t

I"i,..,_._ Approximate
............ Offset

xy.planc --- y-axLf

Figure 14 Compensatingfor posttreatment that requires removal of material

124 Computer-Aided Design Volume 26 Number 2 February 1994

Slicing procedures for layered manufacturing techniques: A Dolenc and I M~ikel&


Figure 15 Compensatingfor minimizingnumberof layers,or better accuracy

process from Cubital. Therefore, a simple approach IMPLEMENTATION

produces acceptable results. The interested reader can
consult the literature 9 in which these problems have A tool for slicing 3D models represented by triangles has
already been solved, and adapt the algorithms to the been implemented by one of the authors. It incorporates
ideas presented above. all the features described in this paper. It is written in c,
and it is portable, being available on six platforms.
Currently, the output is represented in a data-exchange
format called LEAF 10.
Our efforts are now being directed to the development
NORMALS OF PARAMETRIC SURFACE of a good graphical user interface and the implementation
MODELS of a slicing tool for 3D models represented by rational
parametric surfaces stored in a neutral file format, such
So far, we have assumed that the 3D model is represented a s IGES o r VDAFS.
by facets, but the original model is usually described using
more complex surfaces. When applying the methods
described above to a faceted model, one is, evidently, CONCLUSIONS
attempting to manufacture accurately a model that
approximates the original one by a given tolerance. Our main contributions are the development of methods
Therefore, it is possible to improve the accuracy further for handling flat areas, and the restriction of the staircase
by slicing the original model. effect to a user-specified tolerance. In addition, we have
One of the problems in implementing the various overviewed the functionality of tools for generating data
slicing procedures discussed in the previous sections is for LMT processes from 3D models, and explained how
that of automatically orienting the normal vectors of the offsetting the slices computed by the intersection algorithm
parametric surface model. Recall that the direction of the can account for posttreatment operations, to minimize
normal vector must indicate the outside of the model. the number of layers, or to obtain a more accurate part.
Because only the normals along the contours must be It is hoped that this paper provides useful guidelines for
oriented, the problem can be reduced by one dimension. implementers.
Our suggestion is to proceed along the following lines.
Consider a normal vector N and its corresponding x y
component N~y. If IINxrll2>e, with e being sufficiently ACKNOWLED GEMENTS
large to account for rounding errors, then the use of a
point-in-polygon test by casting a semiinfinite line in the The work was carried out within the INSTANTCAMproject
direction indicated by Nxy can determine if N is correctly (BRI'rE/EURAM BE-3527), a European consortium of
oriented. partners from industry and research centres. Although
If IlNxrll2~<e, the area is fiat, and the use of only the not all the partners have been directly involved in
contours of the slices parallel to the x y plane is no longer software development, they have all contributed in some
sufficient to orient such normals reliably. One could use way, with suggestions, support, patience, or testing of the
a method based on ray tracing, but an alternative solution tools. The partners are, in alphabetical order, BIBA,
is to compute a suitable slice perpendicular to the x y Germany, Black & Decker, Germany, Danfoss, Denmark,
plane, and apply the method described above. In this the Danish Technological Institute (DTI), Denmark,
case, computing only the contours above or below the E & D Design, Finland, Helsinki University of Technology
point of interest is enough. It is an expensive solution, (HUT), Finland, the Instituto Superior Trcnico, Portugal,
but easy to implement, as the slicing algorithm should NTH-SINTEF Production Engineering, Norway, Raufoss,
be available. However, we hope to find a better Norway, Oy Saab-Valmet, Finland, and Wilhelm Karmann,
alternative. Germany.

Computer-Aided Design Volume 26 Number 2 February 1994 125

Slicing procedures for layered manufacturing techniques: A Dolenc and I M&kela

We thank Reidar Hovtun (NTH-SINTEF),Karsten Lumbye 3 Kruth, J P 'Material incress manufacturing by rapid prototyping
Jensen (DTI), Professor Martti M~intylfi (HUT), Gil techniques' Ann. CIRP Vol 40 No 2 (1991)
4 Rapid Prototyping: Strategic Technology for Product Development
Barequet (Cubital), and the anonymous referees of this Success Technical Insights, USA (1991) (Technical Insights, PO
paper for their comments on earlier versions of the paper. Box 1304, Fort Lee, NJ 07024-9967, USA)
Fiyure 4 was obtained using a surface modeller developed 5 "Stereolithography interface specification' 3D Systems, USA (Jul
by DeskArtes Oy, and triangulated using software 6 Dolenc, A and M~ikel/i, 1 'Optimized triangulation of parametric
developed by HUT in the above-mentioned project. At surfaces' Technical Report TKO-B74 Helsinki University of
HUT, we received the financial support of TEKES. Technology, Finland (1991) (to be published in Math. Surl'aces
Vol IV)
7 Herken, R, H6dicke, R, Thamm-Schaar, T-M, Yost, J and Borac,
S 'High quality visualization of CAD data' in Hoschek, J (Ed.)
FreeJ'orm Tools in CAD Systems: A Comparison Teubner, Germany
(1991) pp 173 194
REFERENCES 8 Sheng, X and Tucholke, U 'On triangulation surface model for
SLA' Proc. 2nd Int. Conf. Rapid Prototyping Dayton, OH, USA
(23-26 Jun 1991) pp 236-245
1 Jacobs, P F (Ed.) Rapid Prototypin9 and Manufacturing: 9 Held, M On the Computational Geometry of Pocket Machining
Fundamentals of Stereolithography SME (1992) Springer-Verlag (1992)
2 Jensen, K L 'Desktop manufacturing, the next Industrial 10 Dolenc, A and M~ikel~i, I 'LEAF: a data exchange format for
Revolution' Technical Report Danish Technological Institute, LMT processes' Proc. 3rd Int. Conf. Rapid Prototyping Dayton,
Aarhus, Denmark (1991) OH, USA (7 10 Jun 1992)

Andrb Dolenc received an M S in Ismo Miikelii received an M S in computer

computer science from the State Uni- sciencefrom Helsinki University, Finland,
versity of Campinas, Brazil, in 1986. He in 1991. He is currently a research
is currently a research associate, pursuing associate. Since 1989, he has been
a PhD degree in computer science. Since developin 9 software tools for rapid
1989, he has been developing software prototypingfor the tUST,4UTCAMproject.
tools for rapid prototyping for the His research interests include computer
INSTANTCAM project. His research graphics and geometric modelling.
interests include computer graphics,
geometric modelling, process planning,
and approximation theory. His favourite
sports are downhill skiing and'sailing.

126 Computer-Aided Design Volume 26 Number 2 February 1994