Making my own parts fast
With the launch of MakePartsFast.com – the companion website to Digital Manufacturing Review, I thought it would be worthwhile to actually try to make a part fast myself and see how the process might work firsthand.
The supplement to Design World Magazine, Digital MFG Review & MakePartsFast.com is geared around rapid prototype service providers, CAD software and rapid manufacturing companies. The overall message is that making prototypes or parts in low runs, whether it be injection molding, machining, SLS, FDM and other techniques is an easy process. This is the notion of taking your 3D CAD file and sending it into a service provider, and within days having a copy of the part.
I have about 8 years experience in surface modeling/animation and some CAD, but in any case was fairly skeptical that this process would be easy.
First off, I used a program (on my mac) called Lightwave 3D® by Newtek as my surface modeler, followed up with modo® from Luxology as both great tools for modeling, realistic surfacing, effects and animation. In this case, the modeling was most important – but being able to render photo-real images prior is key to analyze prototype designs. The model itself, was a fairly light part, with thin areas and smooth flowing curves with overall dimensions of around 170mm x 130mm x 38mm. The file also included another part of the assembly, and was a smaller spherical shape.
The first challenge was translating from modo to get a .stl file. Modo does not export an .stl file type. The .stl file is what most service providers want to run the model to their 3D printers for fabrication – and I’ll just leave the complication of the fabrication machines to call them 3D printers for now.
I chose Rhino3D (for a windows machine) as next step to convert my modo file to an .stl file. The file translation was amazingly accurate – only the overall dimensions requiring tweaking once in Rhino. My ‘frozen’ NURBS surfaces came through as expected. I broke up my assembly in modo into separate parts for import into Rhino, so I would not end up with one fixed part. The widget I created was a sort of ball and socket design.
Now that I had my STL files rather easily, I choose RedEye RPM – a Stratasys Company as the test service provider. I created an account in minutes, uploaded the files and received a price quote immediately based on the stl files. The cool thing was being able to preview the stl file as well online after I uploaded to ensure the file took well to RedEye. I chose an FDM (Fused Deposition Modeling) process, as the part fit well with this type of material.
After placing the order late afternoon, I received notification the following day that my parts would be complete by the next business day and would ship out.
I felt like a little kid when I got the package. Being the first time, it was quite a trip to see & feel the actual plastic-like part in my hand after modeling virtually on screen for so long. The FDM is a porous, but hard material that was very good for the widget I created. I had a few very thin areas measuring less than about 3mm in thickness and it was very fragile. I realized my dimensions were off and should have been thicker, but I imagine for thin parts that require real-world testing, another process would be better suited like rapid injection molding. The more spherical solid aspects of my assembly worked very well with the FDM process.
At the end of the day, to take a 3D file through several software apps, across platforms, upload via the web and get a great prototype back was an amazingly straightforward process. This is an exciting market, as materials techniques, and processes continue to evolve extremely fast.
Here at Design World, we hope to bring you the most up to date and interesting news, editorial, video, tips & tutorials, and more on the subject and how its impacting design and manufacturing trends.
Now what should I make next?