3D Printing — Barriers to Adoption (Part 3)

designe - sketchingSorry for the delay with this latest installment in the series of posts on barriers to adoption. A two-week vacation (much needed) and the subsequent catch-up period stood in the way of progress.

In the two previous installments (part 1, part 2), I covered costs, materials and surface finish. Now, I will focus on a very real issue that is still proving to be a problem for 3D printing becoming mainstream — the 3D data input necessary before even thinking of pressing “print.”

One of the problems with much of the coverage about 3D printing is that it comes across as an isolated activity that is self-contained. It’s not; it is just one part of a much broader workflow. Yet, the discussions of 3D printing often do not provide the context of the big picture: what happens before and after printing. 

Input Required: 3D Data

The fuel for 3D printing is a design of the item that is to be printed. And that fuel must be created in three dimensions — whether from scratch in design software or from 3D scanning techniques to capture the geometry of an existing part.

This can be a contentious issue with industrial users tending to get quite vocal about 3D design software. There are many sites where these discussions can be viewed to assess current issues, which include costs (high), features (or lack thereof), interoperability (low), ease of use (it isn’t) and ‘printability,’ to name a few.

Kevin Quigley, who is a seasoned professional that uses a range of 3D CAD packages, illustrates my point about strong opinions and the desire for a change in direction.

Quiglye said, “We need better creation software designed specifically for creating forms that exploit 3D printing — look at all these bio-mimic structures of lattice forms, mixed materials, organic shapes, etc. These are {ed. very tricky} to model in any mainstream 3D CAD system. What the world needs is a new kind of software designed for 3D printing form generation that handles this stuff with ease, creates reliable output for specific printer types and allows handling of colors, material blending, etc.”

Quigley continued, “We are hung up on STL and generic formats. Why? When we print to a 2D printer, we require a printer driver. This new system should have drivers supplied by the printer makers and output formats specifically for a particular printer – not a generic CAD format. Think about it. This could open up the way to assuring quality, safety, and restricting piracy — tying the output file format to a brand, a model or even an individual printer.”

It might seem like blue-sky thinking, but it is precisely this line of thought, and people reacting to it, that will break the barriers down. I, for one, hope Kevin’s opinions give the software ranks something to think about.

Staying on this wish-list track, Magnus Bombus also thinks that easy input is essential for mainstream industrial adoption of 3D printing. He wants “integrated scanning, measuring, part analyzing and part recording — all within the capability of the 3D printer unit.” It makes sense, don’t you think? And yet, I think we are years, if not decades, away from that!

Taking it even further, Magnus’ ultimate goal with 3D printing is “the ability to be able to create and interact with the 3D printer on an intuitive and tactile level without the barriers caused by CAD and retaining all of the skill and input of the craftsman or human artisan.”

Jeremy Pullin, rapid manufacturing manager at Renishaw, wants “industrial-grade, easy to use and cheap (if not free) 3D modeling packages to create files.” There are simple versions of software in this vein emerging for consumer use — Autodesk123D and TinkerCAD to name a couple — but nothing that would serve the needs of industrial designers. They still have to pay a significant premium to be able to professionally design in 3D, whether the production technique is 3D printing or otherwise.

I was also hoping to explore the second software stage needed for 3D printing, 3D file formats. I think, though, that is a subject for a future post, that will follow after this series. Drop me a line or give me a call if you have thoughts or ideas on what you want covered. In the meantime, I’ll compile some notes.

The next, and final, installment in this series will look at color capabilities and a couple of other more random thoughts on barriers to 3D printing adoption.

<< Part One   |  << Part Two   |  Part Four >>