Additive Manufacturing: Five Signs Your CAD System Needs an Upgrade

Written By: Cat McClintock
  • 7/30/2018

Engineers have long known that the key to keeping costs low is to design products with manufacturing in mind. So they choose easy-to-machine materials, develop modular designs, enlist standard components, and so on.

In fact, design for manufacturing (DFM) is such an essential part of product development that 3D CAD systems today include many features to support the practice (think materials libraries, toolpath animations, and mold analysis).

Additive manufacturing machine


But What About Design for Additive Manufacturing?

DFM tools help if you plan to send your parts out for machining or injection molding. But what about additive manufacturing?

Additive manufacturing (AM) has become widely popular in the past few years. In fact, recent reports predict that AM products and services will grow to $7.3 billion in 2018. Everyone from aerospace to consumer goods to medical device manufacturers now uses this revolutionary approach to producing some of their parts.

And like traditional manufacturing methods, the more you can prepare those parts for 3D printing while they’re still in the CAD system, the more money you’ll save. Yet sadly, traditional DFM tools don’t help with the unique challenges of additive manufacturing. And more bad news is that not all design software has kept up with the changes and needs of the market.

How’s yours doing? Watch out for these signs that your 3D CAD software hasn’t got additive manufacturing quite right yet:

1. It’s not printing clean prototypes

Models with open surfaces can lead to failed prototypes that you’ll want to fix long before you click Print. Little nooks and crannies can also present unique challenges for additive manufacturing.

Look for 3D CAD software that can run a quick check of your model before you print, and you’ll drastically reduce time spent reprinting your part.

2. It complicates optimizing for weight and strength

Sure, 3D printing can speed up one-off jobs and even bring manufacturing to your desktop. But when it comes optimizing models for production, you’re either limited to creating solid, bulky, dense models, or to running your design through multiple software packages.

That’s unfortunate, because once you optimize the model, you’ll often have to update it in your original parametric system before handing it off to production.

Integrating lattices into your designs lets you reduce the amount of printing material you use, while maintaining (or even improving) structural integrity. But if you’re sending your models to multiple software packages to optimize them, your CAD software isn’t all it could be.

It’s a lot of extra work. And it’s unnecessary.

3D CAD packages today should allow you to optimize the design all in one place. For example, you should be able to use built-in simulation tools to help you make fast, efficient weight/strength tradeoffs—again, without the headaches of moving and recreating the design over and over again.

Don’t settle for 3D CAD software that runs your design through the multiple-software-package gauntlet before it hits the print tray.

3. It has no tools to maximize tray space

If you’re printing only a single part per job, you’re wasting time and support materials. Being able to use the printer’s print surface effectively to arrange and even nest objects on the tray should be a table-stakes capability.

Your 3D CAD software should enable you to maximize the number of parts you print in one job, cutting overall print time and increasing efficiency.

Nesting multiple objects on your printer tray delivers more parts per print job.

4. It doesn’t remember tray arrangements anyway

Here’s something else you might not have thought of. The placement of an item on the print tray affects the part’s physical properties. Orientation alone impacts compression, tension (pdf), and even dimensional accuracy.

That’s why it’s important that your 3D CAD system allows you to print out the same tray of parts time after time—so you know that the part you printed today will hold up the same as the one you produced last week.

To do that, the 3D CAD system must be able to save your optimized tray arrangement as an assembly that can then be pulled up any time you need to produce more parts.

5. It won’t communicate with your printer

As shown in this video, a 3D CAD program optimized for additive manufacturing should “talk” directly with the machines that actually produce your printed model.

The need for accurate, efficient digital analysis will only grow more important as designers increasingly look to use 3D printers to deliver production parts. You’ll need the ability to estimate how long your print job will take and the amount of build and support materials required, as well as the ability to position your model optimally and validate its overall printability from within your CAD program itself.

Streamline your Design-for-Additive Manufacturing Process with Creo

Creo moves product design and manufacturing closer than ever to the vision of a fully streamlined design-to-3D-print manufacturing process. Demand a system that gets additive manufacturing right. Download this free e-book to learn more about the advantages that come with designing with Creo.

Download the eBook: 8 Reasons to Design with Creo 

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About the Author

Cat McClintock

Cat McClintock edits the Creo and Mathcad blogs for PTC.  She has been a writer and editor for 15+ years,  working for CAD, PDM, ERP, and CRM software companies. Prior to that, she edited science journals for an academic publisher and aligned optical assemblies for a medical device manufacturer. She holds degrees in Technical Journalism, Classics, and Electro-Optics. She loves talking to PTC customers and learning about the interesting work they're doing and the innovative ways they use the software.