Grafter Is Software Designed Specifically for Remixing 3D-Printable Mechanisms

Design for 3D printing has a pretty distinct progression of difficulty, starting with simple one-piece models, then moving to cases and enclosures, and eventually culminating in complex mechanisms. That last part is tricky, as it requires both skill in 3D modeling, and the ability to accurately imagine the spatial relationships between multiple moving parts. For that reason, it’s a good idea to start by borrowing mechanisms from existing models, and Grafter is designed to make that easier than ever.

Grafter is a software system that allows users to remix 3D-printed machines. (📷: Hasso Plattner Institute)

As it stands now, borrowing those existing mechanisms is a complex process. You have to find a suitable model created in the same CAD (computer-aided design) software that you’re using, and then you have to tweak it to interface with the rest of your design. Grafter promises to streamline that process by automating the extraction and placement of the part groups that make up a mechanism. You could, for instance, combine the crank of a siren, the gearset of a record player, and a test tube holder to create a hand-operated centrifuge.

Grafter is currently in development as a Rhinoceros 3D add-on module at the Hasso Plattner Institute in Potsdam, Germany. As shown in the their video, the software allows you to take an existing model, select groups of parts, and then reuse them in your own model. Details are still limited, but Grafter appears to work with STL files, which means you won’t be constrained by the original designer’s software choice.