August 22, 2013

Posted August 22, 2013 by Jesse Evans, Synergis Civil Solutions Engineer:
By now you may have heard about 3D printing. The rumors, the stories – astronauts are printing tools in space. Well, it is not a myth. I have seen these crazy machines with my own eyes. But how do they work? Is it difficult? What do I need? The first piece you need is a current version of AutoCAD. Second, you need the knowledge of 3D modeling. Synergis can help you in both these areas with the needed software and training.
Once you have the model created, 3D printing is a simple process of ordering a part online or purchasing a 3D printer. And here are the final steps to complete the process.

Prepare Your Drawing

Only 3D solids and watertight* meshes are 3D printable. Before you print your model, it may be necessary make adjustments to the model. First, shell and wall thickness must meet the minimum requirements.

Models with a thin shell or walls may:

  • Break when printed or shipped
  • Print with errors
  • Be impossible to print
  • Be vulnerable to breaking

*Watertight – A closed 3D solid or mesh that has no gaps.
**Please check with the service provider for a detailed list of shell and wall requirements

Structural Problems

Models with a large mass connected to a thin stem may:

  • Break when printed or shipped
  • Print with errors
  • Be vulnerable to breaking

Moving Parts     

Before you print your model, be sure that there is enough clearance between moving parts such as the following:

  • Gears
  • Cogs
  • Links in a chain

If you do not, your prototype may be a solid, non-moving object.

Setting the AutoCAD Environment

1.  Select the Workspace to “3D Modeling”
2.  Select the Output Tab and click “Send to 3D Print Service”

3.  Select “Continue”.  Then in the drawing area, select the 3D solid or watertight mesh.


Select the 3D Solids and Watertight Meshes

Once the object is selected, modify the scale if needed and click “OK”.

Next Export the .stl File

You must save it as an STL file. A .STL is a Lithograph file type and is used by the service providers. Provide a saving location and define the Object Name, click “Save.”

Select a Service Provider

  1. Select a service provider from the Autodesk Website
  2. Select the material:  Thermoplastics or Photopolymers
  3. Finalize the purchasing and ordering information
  4. Receive the model by mail

Final Thoughts and Things to Remember

You can only print 3D solids and watertight meshes.

You cannot print:  surfaces, 2D Geometry, text, colors or materials.

Here’s some additional references to help you:

Hope this helps!

Other posts by Jesse Evans:

Autodesk InfraWorks – Create the Future Today
Civil 3D Survey – Knowing its History May Help Your Future
BIM – It’s as Easy as 1, 2, 3
Jesse specializes in Infrastructure (Civil/GIS) as a Synergis Solutions Engineer, and brings a spectrum of industry experience with him to Synergis. He has his associate’s degree in Architectural Design, a certification in AutoCAD Release 14 (R14), and is also a Microsoft Certified Professional (MCP). First introduced to Autodesk products in 1997, he became State certified and began using R14 in the manufacturing industry to design parts for Boeing airplanes.  After returning to school and obtaining his Associates Degree in Architectural Design, Jesse was employed by a consulting engineering firm as a Technical Civil Engineering Designer. As a Civil Designer, he developed skills in Civil 3D, Land Desktop Development (LDT), Map 3D, Raster Design, and Survey. He has worked on many different levels of land development and survey projects, from hospitals to highways, rivers to residential, schools to subdivisions. With over 10 years of experience using Autodesk Products, Jesse considers learning the best way to build confidence and a brighter future. He firmly believes that understanding the Autodesk solutions can help anybody produce faster, have greater precision, and be more valuable on the market.
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