At SOLIDWORKS, we understand the value 3D printing has brought to the product development process throughout the last couple of decades. 3D printed prototypes or mock-ups are the quickest way to get close to a true appreciation for how products will look and feel, or even function. However, the workflow associated with it has not really changed very much throughout that period, and there is definitely room for improvement.
Standard Tessellation Language (STL) or Stereolithography files have been the interface between CAD and 3D printer. Although SOLIDWORKS has been able to create STL files for as long as I can remember, the format is not without some pitfalls. Triangles in the format can become inverted or small gaps can be present meaning they are not watertight, and some inside faces are on the outside of a model. This ambiguity makes life tricky for 3D printers, which need a closed contour for each slice to work. There are a number of inbuilt checks that SOLIDWORKS runs before exporting STLs so files are the best possible quality, but inevitably, time-consuming repairs in specialist software can still be required before 3D printing.
Evident from the latest developments in SOLIDWORKS 2015, 2016 and with more to come in 2017, we have been working on making 3D printing from SOLIDWORKS as easy as possible. We have added checks to highlight which areas on the model require supports; visualization tools so you can see how the layers of the printed output will look based on print settings; tools to make sure you don’t have walls too thin to be printed; and also with Windows 8.1 and 10, a direct connection to compatible desktop printers, removing the need for build preparation software in those cases.
However, we want to do a lot more to help you exploit the maximum value from 3D printing or additive manufacturing as possible. In order to do so, just like we have always done at SOLIDWORKS, we are talking to customers like you to understand exactly how you are using 3D printing and make sure we continue to fit your needs in future versions.
If you would like to host a visit from SOLIDWORKS Product Management to help influence the future of SOLIDWORKS in the area of 3D printing and additive manufacturing, please let us know. We want to visit anyone using 3D printing on a regular basis whether it is for prototypes, tooling and fixtures, production parts or even customization of parts. Don’t have time for a visit? We would still like to speak to you. We can arrange a call and GotoMeeting and 45 minutes is all we need. If this is you, please get in touch by emailing me at please get in touch by emailing me here.