SOLIDWORKS tools in Additive Manufacturing

The adoption of 3D printing has become the mainstream for prototyping because of its ease to use criteria. The exponential growth of CAD and the real increase in computer power has further accelerate the assimilation of 3D printing into industries. By using 3D printing, 3D models can be made so fast and cost effectively. Everybody wants to see a design before tooling is made, and that is just one small part of its portfolio of uses.

Additive manufacturing in another word also referring to 3D printing where the manufacturing process by which material is added, layer by layer to build a part. Let’s come back again to the main topic. The main sharing today is to let people to know what will happen between the collaboration between SOLIDWORKS and 3D printing. This content is credited to Aaron Kelly who is currently a marketing consultant for Desktop Metal. To make this simpler, I shall start with the concept behind 3D printing. The popular technologies for additive manufacturing nowadays include Stereolithography (SLA). Selective Laser Sintering (SLS), Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS) and so on. all of them using the same concept where a part is analysed and sliced into many sections to create a build plan for the part. Throughout the 3D model to prototyping processes, SOLIDWORKS play vital role to identify design or geometry problems early in the design phase to reduce costs and save time. There are some of the useful features to introduce that will prepare designs for addictive manufacturing in general.
The main discussion will focus on features of SOLIDWORKS:
Geometry Analysis
Thickness Analysis
Undercut Analysis and Draft Analysis

a) SimulationXpress

SimulationXpress is a free built-in tool that is activated within SOLIDWORKS that enables first-pass finite element analysis (FEA) inside SOLIDWORKS interface. This feature is useful in helping engineers and designers to make sure that the part they are designing will be functional as designed and this is an important step that will decide whether the deigned part can be functional or not. An important thing to note is that most parts that are created with FFF or similar technology will not have 100% infill by default. An infill percentage will often be used when talking about 3D printed parts. The designed parts will not have the strength of a part with 100% infill (fully dense), but tool is still valuable when comparing stress and deflection across materials.

b) Print3D

The blooming of 3D printing trend has triggered SOLIDWORKS to add in features for 3D printing. SOLIDWORKS introduced a feature a few years back that makes printing to 3D printed as easy as 2D printers by printing to the 3D printer from within SOLIDWORKS application. However, this feature does not catch the attention from 3D printer manufacturers, only some printers support its feature like Makerbot. This feature has some valuable functions that assist the prototyping processes. The feature has a lot of value when considering it has a thin wall checker, a scaling feature to make sure parts can be printed accurately and a printer bed volume checker to see if your part will fit on a 3D printers’ build bed.
c) Geometry Analysis

Geometry analysis is a feature that allows users to specify values of control parameters to identify geometric entities. For example, you can specify the maximum length for short edges. The results can be graphically analysed with geometry analysis Property Managed that appears after the analysis complete. Geometry analysis identifies problematic geometries that could cause problems to the application or assembly. This feature is also important to avoid stress singularity happens at sharp edges, small faces and discontinuous edge. Of course, we do not want our fellow printer to create a geometry that out of its capability and fails at the end. A lot of these errors occur around the complex filleting operations. It’s trivial to fix the problems inside SOLIDWORKS rather than the fabricated parts.

d) Thickness Analysis

Thickness analysis is an important analysis especially designing plastic parts or castings. This feature is used to determine the different thickness at each point of part, which helps designer to inspect problematic region in the design that might be too thin or too thick in certain regions. In general, 3D printers have its unique design guidelines like the minimum thickness 3D printer can achieve. Hence, here come SOLIDWORKS come in to support. In SOLIDWORKS, these can be input as parameters to generate feedback specific to your 3D printing process. Very thin walls can buckle or fall over using addictive manufacturing using any material, so proper design and inspection is needed during the process. From figure above, it can be seen SOLIDWORKS will automatically senses where either thin walls or thick walls exist in your part.

e) Undercut Analysis and Draft Analysis

These features are typically for mold design applications, but they are very useful when looking at additive manufacturing applications. SOLIDWORKS users just need to define the “pull” direction or the direction which the part will be constructed from and a defined angle threshold and SOLIDWORKS does the rest. Whenever there is an undercut condition or faces at angles approaching or exceeding 45 degrees, supports are often necessary. Supports should be avoided when possible, so it is important that SOLIDWORKS tell you when these conditions exist, so you can address them right there in the software. Depending on your print method, supports can be difficult to remove after printing and can leave very rough surfaces. In the image above, the red and blue faces would need supports, while the yellow and green would not. The yellow and green faces will not need supports as they are under the angle threshold in the direction of building the part.

f) DFMXpress
DFMXpress is another free tool but this tool has nothing to do with additive manufacturing. In fact, this tool is specialized to milling and drilling processes. The value in this tool here is to show where the use of addictive manufacturing would be advantageous when machining will be hard or impossible. This feature will expose to user about the regions that are difficult to mill or drill using subtractive manufacturing.

SOLIDWORKS helps designers and engineer’s shortcut the part iteration cycle by identifying areas for redesign prior to print. While many 3D printers have proprietary software with geometry analysis, orientation modification, and geometry detection built in, finding these issues at the print stage, means engineers are going between their CAD programs and the print software to modify and ready their parts for print.
With use of these tools, SOLIDWORKS users can detect upfront potentially problematic areas for a 3D printing process; edit directly in the program; and as a result, greatly improve print performance and lower iteration cycles due to failed prints.