First Look: 3DXpert by 3D Systems gets a first-hand look at 3D Systems’ new 3DXpert software for metal 3D printing.

The floor of the International Manufacturing Technology Show (IMTS) in Chicago bustled with the future of manufacturing technology, some of which is quite futuristic. This includes 3D Systems Figure 4 3D printing system, which uses industrial robotic arms along with faster stereolithography and, now, inspection capabilities.

3D Systems also showed off its new software dedicated entirely to metal 3D printing, 3DXpert. Hari Sridharan, 3D Systems director of Application Engineering and Training, was there to give us a first look.

CAD for Metal 3D Printing

Sridharan explained that 3DXpert is the result of 3D Systems’ 2015 acquisition of Israeli CAD/CAM developer Cimatron Ltd. The software is meant to optimize CAD models solely for metal 3D printing purposes, including file preparation and even post-processing.

While the software can still read STL files, 3DXpert does not require the use of STL files for 3D printing. STL files describe the geometry of a 3D model in terms of surface triangles. The smoother the part, the more triangles required to capture that smoothness. As a result, STLs can become quite large when used for complex smooth shapes.

With 3DXpert, however, the geometry is created and stored in a precise, not faceted, state. “We use the ACIS solid modeling engine, so your design does not have to approximated. Shapes are smooth. Geometry can be changed using parameters. 3DXpert will be able to read in STL files, but best of all, it can read in B-rep formats, such as from SOLIDWORKS, Inventor, Creo, AutoCAD, Siemens NX and more,” Sridharan said.

This development is one that has been trending in the world of 3D printing software, with Stratasys announcing a similar strategy with GrabCAD Print. GrabCAD Print prints directly from CAD files to Stratasys 3D printers, also making the STL file more or less obsolete.

Optimizing Metal 3D Printing

Metal 3D printing still requires a great deal of guesswork when it comes to file preparation. Determining the proper orientation and placement of support structures is often the result of trial and error. Some users report printing the same component seven different times just to understand the optimal file preparation. And this doesn’t even include the steps required to fully exploit the benefits of metal 3D printing, such as converting solid shapes to lattices for increased material efficiency.

3DXpert is meant to handle every step of the metal 3D printing process from importing data to post-processing. (Image courtesy of 3D Systems.)

3DXpert is meant to handle every step of the metal 3D printing process from importing data to post-processing. (Image courtesy of 3D Systems.)

With 3DXpert, it is possible to position parts on a printer tray and visualize how the recoater or roller will move as well as how gas flows within the chamber. The tool also provides real-time analysis of support structures and downward-facing areas.

Parts can be oriented and supports generated automatically to reduce the number of support structures to a minimum. It is also possible to select specific support structure options, such as change the shape. “3DXpert will highlight areas in red that overhang by a specified amount so that you can build the support structures under it,” Sridharan said. “You have a choice of many types of support structures, from simple round columns to hex core and more. Supports can be tilted or bent.”

3DXpert can perform some healing operations, according to Sridharan. Specifically, the software will seal holes in 3D models to make them watertight for 3D printing. It will also flag areas of a model that have too little material for printing purposes. More interestingly, 3DXpert accounts for post-processing of the metal parts, with the software incorporating such features as drill, tap or rim holes.

3DXpert for All?

While the software may be used for systems other than those manufactured by 3D Systems, the tool works best with 3D Systems printers. Additionally, some manufacturers rely on proprietary data files. As a result, the software will not work with their systems.

3DXpert can be bought outright with a perpetual license or with a monthly subscription. For more information, visit the 3DXpert page here.