Improve Your 3D Printing Experience with SOLIDWORKS software

Article by Rod Mackay updated November 1, 2016


SOLIDWORKS 2017 has a fantastic new feature that improves the 3D printing experience! The new Print 3D feature in SOLIDWORKS takes a few extra steps out of your print preparation when designing in SOLIDWORKS. I recently presented a webinar on the Print 3D feature. Check it out below to help you and your team design parts for 3D Printing successfully the first time – without revisions!

In this blog post I will highlight four critical areas that have caused headaches in the past with designing for 3D Printing. Luckily, SOLIDWORKS 2017 has a remedy for those headaches. The pain points in the design process are:

  • Selecting ideal print orientation
  • Optimizing layer height for best results with minimum print times
  • Thin wall and gap detection
  • Support and model material interfaces on the model

These pain points consistently come up in conversations, no matter the industry. Users want to save time by knowing the best orientation to achieve ideal model surface quality, as well as a better understanding of which faces will have support and model interaction. I will explain the Print 3D features below with screencaps from SOLIDWORKS 2017.

Print Orientation and Scaling

With the orientation and scaling feature in Print 3D you can quickly jump from designing your file to quickly checking if it will fit your printers build envelope. The printer size is completely customizable in Print 3D and it will give you an accurate representation of how your file will fit into your printer. The orientation is quick and easy. You simply pick which surface you would like to be face down on the build tray of your printer. Once you have done this you can quickly rotate and scale the part with the toggle bars in the property manager. Another great feature is the automatic scale to fit your printer. This will give you the numeric scale value that your part needs to be to fit in the envelope. This is an especially great feature if you are an architect trying to quickly fit your model to the build tray.

3D Printing Experience

3D Printing in SOLIDWORKS 2017

Figure 1: Scale – Note the red parts of the model do not fit in the build envelope. To quickly fit the part, see the ‘Maximum Scale’ value to quickly scale to fit the envelope. Hit ‘Scale To Fit’ and you are ready to go!

Optimizing Layer Height

A very useful feature of 3D Print is the ability to visually assess the layer heights of your build. In the past, the frustration of printing a part in the wrong orientation, with the layer lines directly impacting the performance of your part, had the potential to ruin a build. The visualization feature in Print 3D makes it quick and easy to ensure your orientation will not affect the critical surfaces of your builds.

Thin Wall and Gap Detection

My favourite feature in Print 3D is the thin wall and gap detection. This is an essential tool when scaling parts that are much larger than your printers build envelope. A good example of this is scaling buildings and job sites to print out demonstration models for architects. Occasionally, when a model is scaled down from life size in SOLIDWORKS, the walls and thin structures end up too thin to print. This issue lies in the fact that the current printing software on the market will not give advanced warning. The thin walls will then be discarded or changed because of their thickness. Those who have taken Javelin’s Additive Manufacturing and 3D Printing Essentials course will know what the minimum thickness for Stratasys printers must be to consistently yield successful thin walls. For those who haven’t, I strongly suggest checking out the course as you will learn a ton of useful and impactful techniques!

When you know the minimum wall thickness of your machine, you can set that value in Print 3D and it will highlight any features that are thinner than your minimum setting. The value you input is the thinnest feature you want to allow in your CAD model. I have found this tool very useful as it immediately tells the designer if there are any trouble areas. In the following picture the orange lines are the thin wall detection. The gap detection would do the same, but would highlight any gap over the threshold in blue. This is especially important in assemblies to see if you are giving your mates enough space for the parts to build separately and be functional after the support material has been removed.

3D Printing SOLIDWORKS 2017

Thin wall detection at 2.5mm. Stratasys printers can go down to 0.5mm consistently!

Model and Support Interaction Faces

The last item I want to highlight in Print 3D is the prediction of where the model and support will build. This feature will show the user where the support structures will attach to the model so the user can better understand what will happen during the build and how the faces attached to the support will look. The designer can set their support angle threshold (angle at which the printer begins to build support). You can set the machine from 0.1 to 180 degrees and the preview will show you which surfaces will contact support. The colours are customizable, as different colours will help with different contours. In the picture shown here, the turquoise blue is the model material and the magenta are the faces that will have support structures.

3D Printing SOLIDWORKS 2017

In conclusion, I am pleasantly surprised with the new SOLIDWORKS 2017 Print 3D feature! It is far more useful than I originally anticipated. I find it to be a great way to quickly check if your design in SOLIDWORKS will yield desirable results with 3D Printing. This tool is not meant to replace the print software programs where you design individual tool paths, but instead it is a verification tool to expedite the process. I like the step SOLIDWORKS has taken with this tool and will be using it daily.

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Rod Mackay

Rod has been using 3D CAD software for over 25 years and has trained thousands of designers to use their CAD systems more effectively. Rod is the Javelin Webmaster and is based in Ottawa, ON., Canada.