Tech Tip: 3D Printing with SOLIDWORKS 2016

   By Kelly Judson on February 23, 2016

With SOLIDWORKS 2016, there is new functionality that gives you the ability to work with your 3D printer directly in the SOLIDWORKS interface. There are some caveats though, so let’s cover those first.

  • Microsoft Windows 8.1 or 10 is required
  • The 3D Printer must be connected to a computer with SOLIDWORKS installed
  • The 3D printer manufacturer uses the SOLIDWORKS 3D Print API
  • New in 2016 is the “Preview” option
  • Must have a part or assembly that has at least one solid body

Now that we have covered those requirements, the use of the Print3D functionality is pretty straightforward. Once you have your part or assembly open in SOLIDWORKS, follow these steps:

  1. Click File > Print3D.
  2. Under Printer, select a printer from the list of installed 3D printers that use the Windows 8.1 print driver.
  • The dimensions of the printer you select are shown in Print volume.
  • Printer description shows a read-only description of the printer.
  3. Under Print Bed Location, select a plane or face to act as the reference plane of the model. You are also able to use the reference planes in the part of assembly file as well from the fly out FeatureManager Tree. If your plane selection results in part of the model extending beyond the print volume, the area outside the print volume is highlighted in red and you won’t be able to print.
  • A preview shows the model within the print volume. If the model falls outside the print volume, click Arrows_1.png to reverse the orientation so that the print volume encloses the geometry.
  • The Orient to fit option is helpful to quickly orient your part into the print area and if the orientation requires tweaking, then you can use the Use the Translation controls Arrows_2.pngand Arrows_3.png to move the print volume in the direction of the axis. (See Figure 1)
Figure 1: Upper Half of the Print3D PropertyManager
  4. Under Scale:

The first option is the scale factor input box.

The default scale is set to 1, which is the current size of the model in SOLIDWORKS. The software calculates the maximum recommended scale factor and informs you of this limit and if you change the orientation of the face that is aligned with the print area, the maximum recommended scale factor is recalculated.

Here are the options to change the scale:

  • Type a value for the scale factor. The new value is saved as a document property in the SOLIDWORKS file so if you print the model again, the saved value is used still there.
  • Click Scale to Fit to apply the maximum scale factor.
  • Click Orient to Fit and Scale to Fit. SOLIDWORKS will orient the model and scales it so that you get the largest possible printed model. (See Figure 2)
Figure 2: The lower half of the Print3D PropertyManager
  5. Under Options:
  • Job Quality gives the job quality for the print; Draft, Medium, and High. The three options correspond to the print layer thickness and are the printer’s “guess” at that resolution.
  • Infill percentage gives the percentage of the part being solid. The following options are available:  Low – 10% fill, Medium – 40% fill, High – 70% fill and Solid – 100% fill.  The percentage of fill will affect several aspects the printed part such as print time, part strength and material usage.
  • Include supports will create supports for features of the model that overhang the print area.
  • Include raft will create the print output to be built on top of a layer of disposable material that you can remove after printing.
  • Printer Properties will show the properties specific to the selected printer that are supplied by the printer manufacturer.
  6. Under Save to File:
  • Shows the selected file format. The following options are available:
  • .STL (Standard Tessellation Language) STL format is the default format for most 3D printers. The STL file describes only the surface geometry of a 3D object as a raw, unstructured triangulated surface. When you specify export options, .STL files can be either binary or ASCII.  The typical export is a Binary file with the Resolution set to a moderately small value. (See Figure 3)
  • .AMF (Additive Manufacturing Format) AMF format is an XML-based format that is designed to support additive manufacturing processes such as 3D printing, but has not had the wide adoption rate, yet, by the 3D printer manufacturers.
Figure 3: The export options in SOLIDWORKS
  7. Under the Preview Tab:
  • Build Analysis shows the preview of the settings selected to evaluate the current print job.
  • Show faces that require supports will highlight the preview with the areas in green that will need to have support material added to properly print the model. (See Figure 4)
  • The Set Angle from vertical option allows control over the angle required to create support structures
  • Show striation lines will help determine whether the print resolution is sufficiently fine to produce the desired print. The striation lines do change to match the Options setting but please understand that the display is an approximation of the print layers. (See Figure 4)
Figure 4: Preview Settings

After you set the print options in the Print3D PropertyManager, Windows 8.1 or 10 handles all communication with the 3D printer. A window will likely appear to make sure that the printer build area is empty and then the printer will start to warm up and print.

In conclusion, the tools available in the Print3D functionality are easy to use and set up and will do a pretty good job of using your 3D printer from the SOLIDWORKS interface. The functionality may not be as robust as the 3D printer manufacturer’s pre-processing software, but the print job can be controlled from SOLIDWORKS just fine.

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