Just click print. Three words — a lifetime goal for anyone in the modern printing business. It literally crosses dimensions, and not in a vague science fiction way. Today we’re talking about 3D printing, but 15 years ago 2D printing was a giant hassle. Peter, Michael, and Samir’s enduring legacy isn’t for no reason. “PC load letter” was enough to drive anyone over the edge. Years from now it’s not unreasonable to think that a Michael Bolton facsimile will zero in on another cultural touchstone, this time with filament jams. Less paper. More filament. One more dimension.
And while destroying hardware makes for better visual humor, it’s not like 2D software at the time was much better. Remember hunting down and manually installing drivers? Do you miss that? We doubt it. There’s a time and place for precise, human control in software. But most of the time people want whatever it is to just work.
Easy. Accessible. Accurate. Is that so much to ask?
3D printing and the scourge of “prep”
Consider the process the average design engineer has to endure before they send the model to a 3D printer. First, and perhaps the greatest of all sins, the native CAD file must be converted to an STL. Wikipedia is remarkably diplomatic on the subject: “The results are not predictable, but [they are] often sufficient.”
The engineer just spent a considerable amount of time building the perfect part with even more perfect geometry and the first step to 3D printing asks that same engineer to make due with a file format that removes much of that perfection straight away. As a reminder, the STL format was created in 1988 and hasn’t changed a whole lot since — primarily because it’s totally abandoned. Nobody is hard at work making a better STL.
Strip away the intelligence and end up with a file older than dirt. I can think of a few professionals who might find that acceptable. Engineers are not among them.
Now that you have a less than perfect STL, the machine operator is then expected to “fix it.”
Fix the holes in the mesh. Look for potential collisions. Check for reversed normals, bad edges, flipped triangles, and noise shells. Make sure everything is “water tight.” Even if all of this stuff doesn’t seem especially bothersome, it’s tough to make the argument that it’s the most efficient process.
Coping with the reality of model prep
So even if it’s not ideal, what choice is there? If the model isn’t fixed it isn’t getting printed. Thankfully, a host of software providers have risen up to meet the challenge over the last 25 years. You know the names by now — Magics, Netfabb, Meshlab, and so on. These are amazingly powerful software packages that can perform herculean tasks with STL files. Without today’s model prep software, 3D printing wouldn’t even have a “PC load letter” warning. The machine would just stare at you.
But the fact remains that somewhere along the line, someone is duplicating work without much value add (we haven’t gotten to tray optimization or vertically stacking print jobs yet). Herculean efforts are undoubtedly impressive, but isn’t it better to avoid procedural steps that require an operator to perform wizardry?
We think so.
Wouldn’t it be amazing if you could just print your CAD file?
What if you could print your 3D model the same way you print a text document? Click “print,” select a printer, and move on with the business of the day. No converting. No messing around with the original file. If you want something custom — we know many of you can’t help but click “advanced properties” — it should be something you opt into. And we’re working on it.
Thanks for reading. We can’t wait to tell you more about what’s coming.
We’re making professional 3D printing easy and accessible
There’s a new solution coming your way this summer. Click here to request updates and beta access.
About the author: (Brian Neville-O’Neill)
Brian is GrabCAD’s marketing content manager. If you spot a typo on the site, it’s probably his fault.