Closing the 3D Printing Gap: An Interview with PTC’s Jose Coronado

For 20 years, manufacturers have been using additive manufacturing (3D printing) for prototyping. But lately, more and more PTC customers are turning to this same technology to manufacture production parts. The problem is, says PTC product manager Jose Coronado, the process was never designed for manufacturing via 3D printing. That’s why PTC partnered with Stratasys to close the gaps and streamline the connection between PTC Creo and the 3D printing technology. Recently, we asked Coronado to tell us more.

PTC product manager Jose Coronado

Why do you say the process wasn’t designed for 3D printing?

Coronado: Traditional manufacturing is subtractive, typically removing material to create a finished part. You need a different set of tools when you start manufacturing with additive methods. It was okay when companies just used the process for prototyping, it didn’t matter so much if the steps were not optimized as they still saved considerable time compared to traditional prototyping methods. But once you get into manufacturing of production parts, you want to use materials more efficiently, optimize the designs for the printing process, detect and fix certain kinds of errors, etc. To achieve the required level of efficiency, we need to provide tools for designing for additive manufacturing early in the process.

How do PTC Creo users benefit from this relationship with Stratasys?

Coronado: Both companies share a vision to streamline the design-to-print process. With this partnership, we get access to their industry and process knowledge and team—and they get access to ours. As a result, we’re influencing each other, and, most importantly, we’re aligning our product roadmaps.

For PTC Creo users, that means the process from design to manufacture will work seamlessly as they create, optimize, validate, and produce parts.

[Ed. For more, watch this brief interview with PTC’s Brian Thompson as he discusses the Stratasys partnership.]

PTC has already introduced some new tools with the PTC Creo 3.0 M040 release as a result of the Stratasys agreement. What do these new features do?

Coronado: Think of the new features in two sets. One set is generic; that is, these features can be used no matter what your 3D printer the user selects with the user-defined print option. With these tools, you can scale and position your model on a tray—which represents the print platform. You can also see a rough approximation of the support material needed. There are validation tools, which allow you to check gaps and wall thicknesses – so that you can detect any issues and fix them before printing. And also display-related aids, like the clipped view, which helps you check that the model is optimized for additive manufacturing. With these generic features, you can the save your model—along with its translation and rotation on the tray—as an STL file. The STL file is used by most 3D printers as a standard format.

During the validation process, the system can find gaps, or in this case a hole, that’s too small and the system won’t print.

The second set, which is built on top of the previously described functionality, is for PTC Creo users with a supported Stratasys printer. These focus on connectivity and making the process more streamlined. We do away with the STL file generation step, and send designs directly to the printer. So, with these options, PTC Creo can directly get information about the printer’s capabilities. PTC Creo can then inform the designer which materials and colors are available. So if the printer doesn’t have a yellow cartridge, yellow won’t be an available setting in PTC Creo.

What special add ons do users need to access these sets of capabilities?

All this functionality is open with the basic PTC Creo license. No additional extensions are needed…no additional fees.

Tell us more about the joint product roadmap.

Coronado: We have been following a process to validate our common vision with key customers around the world, and we are confident that our joint product roadmap is answering many of the top customer requirements.

What can we expect in future releases then?

Coronado: What was released in PTC Creo 3.0 M040 is the first step, we are preparing much more. While we can’t make promises about future functionality, I can tell you our goal is to extend the connectivity to more Stratasys printers and improve the offline mode – that is, the capabilities associated with a printer that’s offline, so that you can prepare your model for printing even without being connected. The current roadmap also includes projects to do more with the tray concept, adding more positioning features, so you can make the most of every print job.

[Ed. For a complete list of new features for additive manufacturing in PTC Creo 3.0 M040, see the PTC Design for Additive Manufacturing website.]