The Four Things Nobody Tells You about 3D Printing

Watch a video about 3D printing, visit a factory using the technology, or just read popular websites, and you’ll hear breathless stories about how anyone can now print their own products with ease. Simply design a 3D CAD model and push Print.

Indeed, this technology changes everything, from in-house prototyping to tool development to production.

Now with PTC Creo 3.0, the system automatically handles chamfer geometry created with PTC Creo Parametric 3.0 or later as a chamfer, meaning that the dimensions of the chamfer remain constant even while adjacent geometry moves.

But if you’re someone who works in design and manufacturing, you’re probably guessing there’s more to it. And you’re right; there are a few things those boosters always seem to leave out. Here’s what else you should know about 3D printing, especially if you’re team is producing real products on real deadlines:

1. You may need up to 4 different types of software to print a part. Typically, you don’t just push the print button on your 3D CAD system and then pick up your part at the printer. According to industry analysts PwC, you’ll need additional software to optimize your job for accuracy, cost, speed, materials, etc. You may need special software to define lattices and run simulations, too.

2. Digital prototyping is harder. There are a number of ways print jobs can go wrong—poor placement on the print tray, gaps in surfaces, walls that shatter during post processing, etc. While 3D CAD software can sometimes help you automate design for traditional manufacturing, 3D printing is a whole different game. Without specialized analysis tools, engineers can only find and fix problems by printing a part that looks pretty good, finding out it’s flawed, fixing the model, and starting the print process all over again.

3. You’ll come to fear late design changes. Now imagine your part fails or someone asks for a late change in the design. You’ll have to run your model through all those software applications and start the trial and error of printing your updated part again.

4. The 3D printer cares nothing at all about your current design-for-manufacturing skills. Think about it. A part that will be injected into a mold requires much different design considerations than one that’s extruded through a die. 3D printing requires yet another way of thinking about manufacturing. The molds and dies are gone, but now the system creates its own support structures as it builds up the part. As you design, you’ll have to consider where those supports attach, and what post-processing is required (a chemical bath? Sanding? Etc.) But, while you’ll need to avoid certain design pitfalls that didn’t matter before (look out for closed or tiny cavities), this new approach to manufacturing can help you create in ways that were once impossible (movable parts, odd and compact forms).

All that said, there’s plenty of good news about the 3D printing industry these days. Teams and technology are quickly overcoming barriers. Adoption is brisk; in fact, the industry is expected to double in size the next 5 years.

We’ve put together an infographic that explains what you need to know about where the 3D printing industry stands  today, and where it’s going. Find out who’s using additive manufacturing, why, and what options exist for making sure your team is a 3D printing success story.