Last updated December 2019
3D printing has come a long way since its discovery more than 30 years ago. While we’re still far away from a Star Trek-type replicator in every home, the current state of 3D printing technology is nothing to scoff at.
3D Printing has already proven to be an invaluable tool for many industries. For example, 3D printed fuel nozzles on GE’s largest jet engine are currently in testing.
Overall, there’s been a significant increase in material availability, quality consistency, cost reductions, and most importantly, industry adoption.
But while the machines and materials have improved, the 3D printing workflow has remained about the same. What I mean by the “3D printing workflow” is the process of how one starts with a 3D model and then gets a finished part from their 3D printer. On a basic level, it goes like this:
- 3D model is created in CAD or other modelling software of choice
- 3D model is then translated to a mesh file, most commonly an STL or OBJ
- Mesh file is then put into a slicer software, such as GrabCAD Print
- Slicer software translates the mesh file to a layer-by-layer toolpath with specific machine settings and preferences
- Your model is sent to the 3D printer and your model gets printed!
The traditional 3D printing workflow adopted a mix of technologies that were never really intended for 3D printing. However, with the right 3D printing software (such as GrabCAD Print), your workflow can be greatly improved.
A lot of things can go wrong. And sometimes they do.
A CAD model doesn’t always convert well to an STL or other mesh file - geometry can be unintentionally changed and modifying mesh files is a very different design process than regular parametric modeling.
I’ve often found myself working between 3 different design softwares just to get something ready to print. Moving in between so many different programs and processes is not only cumbersome, but a lot of potentially valuable information gets lost.
STL files, the most common mesh file associated with 3D printing, are not well suited for the increasing complexity and uses of 3D Printing. First of all, STL files are notoriously bulky and are not computationally processed efficiently.
STLs only contain surface geometry information, and other aspects of a design, such as color or material, are separate if needed. Because STLs are a mesh file and every modelling software exports to STL in a different way, file checking is necessary to ensure the mesh is printable and can be processed by the slicing software.
That’s where GrabCAD Print software can help. One of the most useful features of GrabCAD Print is the ability to use the Analysis Mode and mesh repair utility built directly into GrabCAD Print.
- If you want to learn how to use this, check out this GrabCAD tutorial: How to Repair STLs Using the Analysis Mode in GrabCAD Print
File checking runs on STL files to check for things like holes, degenerate triangles, duplicate triangles, non-manifold vertices, and more. This validation is just to check that the mesh file isn’t broken, checking for proper printability by looking at things like wall thickness and complex geometry is still largely a manual process.
A promising future
The future of the 3D printing workflow looks promising. As 3D printing software such as GrabCAD Print continues to advanced, users will have a much simpler time sending their jobs to print.
Similarly, one chain in the link from CAD model to physical model is sending and receiving request between engineers, designers and shop operators. For instance, in a typical 3D printing shop, shop operators receive an influx of job requests through emails that make it difficult to organize.
However, now there is technology for shop operators to better handle these requests: GrabCAD Shop.
GrabCAD Shop is work order management solution from Stratsys. Unlike GrabCAD Print (that can only be used for Stratasys printers), GrabCAD Shop is available for any 3D printer or CNC machine.
The shop operator simply creates their “shop” and then invites users (designers, engineers and/or students) to submit their request. All requests are organized in an easy-to-use dashboard.
To learn more about improving your 3D printing workflow and using GrabCAD Shop, download the free eBook!