Workflow for 3D Printing

During the development stages for a prototype, there is a lot of blueprint renderings and drawing board sketches. However with the affordable 3D printers that have disrupted the industry, it is now possible to just fabricate the design at early stages sometimes ignoring the drawing board stage altogether or even have the CAD software auto-generate the blueprint for you.

3D Printing Disrupting the Industry

You got your idea and start working on a rough model on a 3D modeling software you choose and eye-balling all the measurements. Then 3D print it in a matter of hours within the comfort of your home. Now you have in your hands a real-life prototype of your product that you can physically hold in your hands and compare it in real life to see if it works as you pictured it would. As you examine the fabricated prototype you can write down all the tweaks that need to be done and go back into the software to modify the design. Then 3D print a newer version.

Faster, more accurate and it is very satisfying being able to physically hold the prototype in your hands at the early stages. The look and feel is a valuable asset that 3D printing has given us that wasn’t available before with such ease. Before the digital fabrication age engineers and designers had to make their design as perfect as possible before even fabricating a model, because of the high cost of producing a physical copy of the prototype. This could take weeks of design on the software before even able to send it to a factory in another country to be fabricated and then shipped back to you. Today, all this can be done by a high school school in less than a day if the product is simple enough.

Polishing Up the Prototype

A rough functional prototype with a few duct type here and there is good for testing and proof of concept at the early stages when pitching your ideas to gain attention or just self-satisfying. Near the end of the lifecycle, you need to polish the prototype and here is a general guideline for the workflow that can be used.

Sometimes it takes a few trys to get things just the way you want it. It’ll never be perfect, but at least it’s gets closer.

3D Print Testing Workflow

3D Print Testing Workflow

Testing, the Trial and Error Game

FDM (Fused Deposition Modeling) and 3D printers require the same workflow. You design a model in your favorite software application, for example Blender, zBrush, 3D Studio Max, or Maya, the list goes on, and the next thing you’re probably thinking is that you’re done and ready to print. Unfortunately, 3D printers that are FDM aren’t as reliable for complex shapes as seen in the photos on this page.

Sometimes a model needs to be positioned a certain way on the printer to get the best results, and other times you may discover certain sections of the model are too small to print without failing. The screenshot labelled “3D Print Testing Workflow” is a good example, the left hand of the character was simply too small to print without breaking apart during the printing process. I had to go back to the design on my software application and redesign it so it would print without fail and maximum results. Positing the left hand closer to the torso of the character minimized overhangs for the printing process and printed without fail on the first try after reiteration.

Digital Fabrication Workflow

Digital Fabrication Workflow

Sometimes the workflow even for 3D printing process involves going back to the design and reiterate through the lifecycle.

The best way to work is to have a flexible workflow, one that will allow you to always go back to any stage in your development without rebuilding all the previous steps and work from there. Just because it sounds good to Design, Fabricate, and then Tweak, doesn’t mean that works.

Digital Fabrication Flexible Workflow

Digital Fabrication Flexible Workflow

After designing the character, I realized the hand yet again was hard to print, so I redesigned it as previously did with the other character and then went back to fabricating it. I realized the candy stick was too thin. When using a different filament brand (the PLA plastic material), it failed to print completely. I wanted the model to be more print friendly so I went back to redesigning stage on my computer and make it thicker and tweaked the printer parameters to have more retraction and vertical lift when printing that section of the model. Basically I told the printer to lift up more often so it would have better results.

Be prepared to go back to any stage of development and even combine stages together to speed up workflow. More modular and flexible workflow is a more efficient development lifecycle.