A professional assist
Even professional engineers could use a hand in simplifying 3D model preparation for output on 3D printers. Many engineers are not day-to-day CAD operators, and could benefit from robust modeling tools that make modeling easier, experts say.
3D modeling tools also need to better address some of the advanced capabilities now possible with 3D printers -- for example, support for functionally graded materials throughout parts, according to Todd Grimm, president of T.A. Grimm & Associates, a consulting and communications firm specializing in the additive manufacturing segment.
“It’s a chicken and egg situation,” Grimm said. “Only a handful of additive manufacturing systems can support the capability, but (there isn’t software) allowing you to properly predict how the material properties will behave. Until the science is understood, customers don’t want to go there.” What’s required, Grimm said, is simulation tools in the same genre of FEA and CFD that will allow engineers to determine the behavior of functionally graded materials.
Ongoing challenges with the .STL format used to communicate 3D models between the CAD package and the 3D printer is another area primed for improvement. .STL is limited in that you can’t communicate sophisticated design elements like color or materials, and it can be difficult to prepare an .STL file from a CAD model that is suitable for 3D printing without a lot of modification. A new XML-based, open-source file format called AMF (Additive Manufacturing File) hopes to become the new bridge between CAD and 3D printers, and it’s capable of defining multi-materials, including functionally graded digital materials, as well as multi colors and complex structures.
“AMF is really compact and it carries a lot of information,” Grimm said, but it’s another one of those chicken and egg situations where it needs support from the CAD and 3D printer communities.
TinkerCAD costs $19 per month for the Personal edition and $100/month for the Startup edition. I'd buy a basic CAD package rather than "rent" one month to month. Three-dimensional printers might appeal to more people at a lower cost, but as the cost goes down I expect more small companies to offer 3-D printing services--perhaps even the UPS Store or local Kinkos-Fedex store could make my prototypes.
I no longer make my own printed-circuit boards because I can get a 2-day turnaround from local shops that welcome small orders. And some PCB quick-turn companies also provide the schematic-capture and board-layout tools for free. Watch the same thing happen with 3-D printing.
At the Design News webinar on June 27, learn all about aluminum extrusion: designing the right shape so it costs the least, is simplest to manufacture, and best fits the application's structural requirements.
For industrial control applications, or even a simple assembly line, that machine can go almost 24/7 without a break. But what happens when the task is a little more complex? That’s where the “smart” machine would come in. The smart machine is one that has some simple (or complex in some cases) processing capability to be able to adapt to changing conditions. Such machines are suited for a host of applications, including automotive, aerospace, defense, medical, computers and electronics, telecommunications, consumer goods, and so on. This radio show will show what’s possible with smart machines, and what tradeoffs need to be made to implement such a solution.