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.