Creating 3D Print Test Parts in Solidworks

20151125_3D Test Piece

Over the last 2 days I’ve been heavily involved with the “Beyond 3D Printing: The Evolving Digital Landscape” conference in Brisbaneย  as discussed in a previous post. As part of the day 1 masterclasses I ran sessions on “CAD Strategies for 3D Printing” where we got everyone hands-on with Solidworks and ran a tutorial on how to create useful test pieces when you have a 3D printer, and how to take advantage of parametric tools available in Solidworks.

Obviously there are lots of ways to test your 3D printer’s limits, one of the simplest being to download some pre-made test pieces and run them through your printer to work out things like minimum wall thicknesses and support angles – Make Magazine have provided some great ones free on Thingiverse which they use for their articles comparing 3D printers. However this is more of a calibration tool, and doesn’t give you a deeper understanding of the limits and opportunities of 3D printing.

To get people thinking about this, I created a step-by-step tutorial showing how to create the test-pieces shown above. Click the below PDF to download the guide and follow along. If you don’t have Solidworks, you may still follow along and use the tools available in your own CAD software to create something similar.

CAD Strategies for 3D Printing – PDF Tutorial

A good test piece should give you a number of things to discover in each print, not only about what your printer can/can’t do, but also informing your design process. As you can see in the photographed prints, a test piece doesn’t have to successfully print in order to be valuable, you can learn a lot either way. By taking advantage of the parametric tools in Solidworks, when a print does fail, it will be very quick to modify a dimension or 2 and re-run the print. In this model we can learn about 3D printing without support material and minimum wall sections. We can also gauge how likely our more complex model on the right is to print, which is simply a repeated pattern of the basic pyramid lattice. Complexity doesn’t actually have to be complex to model, you can use pattern features to repeat a relatively simple shape over and over again.

This also brings into question the debate about when CAD should be used in your design process. Traditionally the development of a concept has been done by sketching on paper, with CAD being used more as a final documentation tool later in the design process. But when designing for additive manufacturing, perhaps it’s time to bring CAD into the early stages of the process alongside sketching, in order to understand exactly what’s possible with the technology, and challenge traditional thinking? What do you think?

– Posted by James Novak

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