Phoenix Children's Hospital 3D printed heart model. (Image courtesy Phoenix Children's Hospital)

Workflow for Creating a 3D Printed Medical Model with Stratasys

For decades in the medical world, surgeons and their professional support teams have relied on X-rays, computed tomography (CT) scans and magnetic resonant imaging (MRI) data when performing their pre-surgical planning approach. These diagnostic tools have been literal lifesavers, yet the resolution and 2D perspective of these images can make it difficult to determine the full details of anatomical geometry. Subtle, critical abnormalities or hidden geometries can go unnoticed when viewing flat films and digital displays.

3D printed heart model produced by Phoenix Children’s Hospital. (Image courtesy Phoenix Children’s Hospital)

With the advent of 3D printing, many surgeons are now using 3D models for both surgical planning and patient communication. While cost is the primary hold-back, such models are seeing increased use. In addition, efforts are underway to quantify the benefits of reduced operating room time/expense and improved patient outcome; see Medical 3D Printing Registry (ACR/RSNA). Supporting this concept are the high-resolution, multi-material PolyJet 3D printers from Stratasys.

But how does the patient’s CT and MRI data become a unique 3D printed model you can hold in your hand? How do you segment out the areas of interest for a particular analysis or surgical model? This blog post describes the necessary steps in the workflow, who typically performs them, and the challenges being addressed to improve the process every step of the way.

Data Acquisition of Patient Anatomy

When we think of imaging throughout the decades, X-ray technology comes to mind. However, classic single 2D images on film cannot be used to drive 3D models because they are qualitative not quantitative. The main options that do work include the series of x-rays known as CT scans, MRI data, and to a lesser extent computed tomography angiography (CTA) and magnetic resonant angiography (MRA). Each approach has pros and cons and therefore must be matched to the proper anatomy and end use.

CT scans comprise a series of x-rays evenly spaced laterally across a particular body section, typically generating several hundred image files. These can be quickly acquired and offer high resolution, however, they do not do well displaying different types of soft tissue, and the process relies on extended exposure to a radiation source.

Sample multiple digital images generated as a CT scan is performed (Image courtesy nymphoenix/Shutterstock.com.)

Typical CT resolution is 500 microns in X and Y directions, and 1mm in Z. This is readily handled by Stratasys printers; for example, the print resolution of the J750 Digital Anatomy Printer is 42 microns in X, 84 microns in Y, and 14 to 27 microns layering in Z, which more than captures all possible scanned features.

Computed Tomography Angiography (CTA) involves the same equipment but uses a contrast agent. With this approach, brighter regions highlight areas with blood flow. This process is superior for showing blood vessels but does not differentiate tissue or bones well.

MRI data is based on a different technology where a strong magnetic field interacts with water in the body. This approach differentiates soft tissue and shows small blood vessels but is more expensive and not effective for capturing bone. Similarly, Magnetic Resonant Angiography (MRA) uses a contrast agent that can track small blood vessels which are important for identifying a stroke but cannot register tissue. MRI scans may also include distracting artifacts and offer poor regional contrast.

A final source of digital imaging data is Positron Emission Tomography (PET). Here, radioactive material is attached to a biologically active area such as cancer; the data obtained with sensors is useful but very local – it does not show surrounding tissue.

Segmentation: Conversion from DICOM to STL format

Whether generated by CT or MRI equipment, anatomic image data is stored in digital files in accordance with the Digital Imaging and Communications in Medicine (DICOM) standard. Two aspects of this standard are relevant to 3D printing medical models: DICOM files include patient-specific, HIPPA-protected information, and the data in the individual images must be merged and converted into a solid model, with the areas of interest defined and partitioned.

Various software packages and services are available that will convert DICOM data into an STL model file (standard format for 3D printer input) while stripping out the personal identifying information. (The latter must be done to comply with HIPPA regulations: never send a DICOM file directly to any service bureau.)

Segmentation involves partitioning a digital image into distinct sets of pixels, defining regions as organ, bone, blood vessel, tumor, etc., then grouping and combining those sub-sections into a 3D model saved as an STL file. Not only does this format offer more meaningful information than a stack of separate images, but it can then be exported for 3D printing.

Example of processed CT scans, combined into a multiple-view 3D visualization and saved as an STL file. (Image courtesy PADT Inc.)

The standard unit of measure for identifying and segmenting the different regions within the combined 3D series of CT scans is a Hounsfield unit. This is a dimensionless value, defined as tissue density/x-ray absorption; for reference, water = zero, a kidney =+40 and bone = +1000.

Human guidance is needed to set threshold Hounsfield levels and draw a perimeter to the area of interest. You can define groups with the same threshold level, cut out certain areas that are not needed (e.g., “mask” the lungs to focus on the spine), and use preset values that exist for common model types. Typically, a radiologist or trained biomedical engineer performs this task, since correctly identifying boundaries is a non-trivial judgement task.

A particularly challenging task is the workflow for printing blood vessels, as opposed to bones or organs. The output from CTA/MRA imaging is the blood pool, not the enclosing vessel. In this case, users need third-party software to create a shell of X thickness around the blood pool shape, then keep both model files (pool and vessel) to guide printing the vessel walls and their internal support structure (which, on the Stratasys J750 Digital Anatomy Printer, is soluble and dissolves out.)

So far, just a few medical segmentation software packages exist:

  • Materialise Mimics Innovation Suite is internationally known for its excellence in image analysis and allows you to write scripted routines for automating repeated aspects of the segmentation tasks. There are also tools for interpreting images with metal artifacts, designing support connections between parts, measuring specified features, and rendering a view of the resulting 3D model.
  • Synopsys Simpleware ScanIP is a 3D image segmentation, processing, and meshing platform that processes data from MRI, CT, and non-medical imaging systems. Simpleware ScanIP removes or reduces unwanted noise in the greyscale images, allows cropping to the area of interest, supports both automated and user-guided segmentation and measuring and includes API scripting. Modules are available for Cardio, Ortho, and Custom solutions.
  • Invesalius 3 is open-source software that can reconstruct CT and MRI data, producing 3D visualizations, image segmentation, and image measurements in both manual and semi-automated modes.
  • Embodi3D/Democratiz3D is an online service that lets you upload a series of CT scans, select a basic anatomy type (bone, detailed bone, dental, muscle, etc.), choose the free medium-to-low resolution or paid high resolution conversion service, and receive the link to an automatically generated STL file. (Users do not interact with the file to choose any masking, measuring, or cropping.) The website also offers downloadable 3D printable models and 3D printing services.

Note that these packages may or may not have some level of 510K FDA clearance for how the results of their processing can be used. Users would have to contact the vendors to learn the current status.

Setting up the STL file for printing

Most of the segmentation software packages give you options for selected resolution of the final model. As with all STL files, the greater the number of triangles, the finer the detail that is featured, but the model size may get too large for reasonable set-up in the printer’s software. You may also find that you still want to edit the model, either to do some hole repairs or smoothing, slice away a section to expose an interior view, or add mechanical struts/supports for delicate and/or heavy anatomy sections. Materialise Magics software will do all of this readily, otherwise, adding a package that can edit STL files or create/merge geometry onto an STL file will be useful.

Medical Modeling software workflow from CT scan to print, for typical Stratasys 3D printed model.

Whoever is setting the file up for printing needs to make a number of decisions based on experience. For Stratasys Connex3, J55, J8-series or J750 Digital Anatomy Printers, the process begins by bringing the file into GrabCAD Print and deciding on an optimized build orientation. Next, colors and materials are assigned, including transparent sections, percentages of transparent colors, and flexible/variable durometer materials, which can be for a single part or a multi-body model.

For the J750 Digital Anatomy Printer in particular, users can assign musculoskeletal, heart, vascular, and general anatomies to each model, then choose detailed, pre-assigned materials and properties to print models whose tactile response mimics actual biomechanical behavior, such as “osteoporotic bone.” (see Sidebar).

I tested out the free online Democratiz3D segmentation service offered by Embodi3D. Following their tutorial, I was able to convert my very own DICOM file folder of 267 CT images into files without patient ID information, generating a single STL output file. I chose the Bone/Detailed/Medium resolution option which ignored all the other visible anatomy then brought the resulting model into the free software Meshmixer to edit (crop) the STL. That let me zero in on a three-vertebrae section of my lower spine model and save it in the 3MF format.

Lastly, I opened the new 3MF file in GrabCAD Print, the versatile Stratasys printer set-up software that works with both FDM (filament) and PolyJet (UV-cured resin) printers. For the former case, I printed the model in ivory ASA on an F370 FDM printer, and for the latter, I was able to assign a creamy-grey color (Red248/Green248/Blue232) to give a bone-like appearance, printing the model on a J55 PolyJet office-environment printer.

GradCAD Print software set-up of 3MF vertebrae model, ready for printing in a user-defined bone color on a Stratasys J55 PolyJet full-color 3D printer. (Image courtesy PADT Inc.)
3D printed vertebrae parts created from CT scans: on left, ABS part from a Stratasys F370 FDM printer; on right, Vero rigid resin material from a Stratasys J55 PolyJet printer. (Image courtesy PADT Inc.)  

Experience helps in producing accurately segmented parts, but more features, such as AI-enabled selections, and more online tutorials are helping grow the field of skilled image-processing health professionals. Clarkson College (Omaha, NE) also recently announced the first Medical 3D Printing Specialist Certificate program.

Reach out to PADT to learn more about medical modeling and Stratasys 3D printers.

PADT Inc. is a globally recognized provider of Numerical Simulation, Product Development and 3D Printing products and services. For more information on Stratasys printers and materials, contact us at info@padtinc.com.

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Sidebar: J750 Digital Anatomy Printer

The Stratasys J750 Digital Anatomy Printer uses PolyJet resin 3D printing technology to create parts that mimic the look and biomechanical response of human tissue, organs and bones. Users select from a series of pre-programmed anatomies then the material composition is automatically generated along with accurate internal structures. Pliable heart regions allow practice with cutting, suturing and patching, while hollow vascular models support training with guide wires and catheters. General anatomy models can replicate encapsulated and non-encapsulated tumors, while bone structures can be created that are osteoporotic and/or include regions that support tapping, reaming and screw insertion.

Currently the Digital Anatomy Printer models present in the range of 80 to 110 Hounsfield Units. Higher value materials are under development which would help hospitals create phantoms for calibrating their CT systems.

Currently available Digital Anatomy Printer   Model/Section Assignments:

Structural Heart:

  • Clot
  • Frame
  • Myocardium
  • Reinforcement
  • Solid Tumor
  • Valve Annulus
  • Valve Chordae
  • Valve Leaflet
  • Valvular Calcification
  • Vessel Wall

General Anatomy:

  • Dense connective tissues
  • Hollow internal organs
  • Solid internal organs
  • Solid Tumor

Blood Vessels:

  • Clot
  • Fixtures
  • Frame
  • Gel Support
  • Inlets
  • Reinforcements
  • Solid Tumor
  • Valve Annulus
  • Valve Leaflet
  • Vascular Calcification
  • Vessel Wall

Musculoskeletal

  • Facet Joints
  • General Bone
  • Intervertebral Discs
  • Ligament
  • Long Bone
  • Nerves
  • Open End
  • Ribs
  • Skull
  • Vertebra

GrabCAD Print (the App): Making Work-from-Home Actually Work

I am so lucky in a zillion ways to be able to work from home while functioning in my position as a 3D Printing Application Engineer for PADT Inc., a Stratasys 3D printer reseller and engineering consulting/manufacturing company in Tempe Arizona.

Three things are making this possible:

1 – Awesome management and co-workers

2 – Great high-speed internet connection

3 – GrabCAD Print software, and more specifically, the GrabCAD Print phone app.            

Of all the apps on my phone, next to my gmail account, this is the app I check most often, because it is so handy!

First off, I can instantly see the status of the nine PADT printers we have on our Tempe network; I can also check other networks and accounts in other locations for which I have permission. That means I know the status of printers I’m running or want to run, and can tell how long someone else’s job is going to take – a very useful bit of information when it comes to telling a customer or our sales group what printer is open for running a part. Follow Butterfly Releases for more updates.

For example, this screen tells me:

–  a job is ready to start on our full-color PolyJet Objet500 Connex3,

–  one print just finished on our Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) Fortus400,

–  my job is 43 percent complete on one of our FDM F370s, and

–  another of my jobs has just begun on the second F370 system.

I can even see that a print got cancelled on our older F250; in this case, I was expecting that, but it’s good information in case I wasn’t. But there is so much more…

Say I want to confirm the file name of what’s running on that first F370, and get some data about its status. I click on that printer’s name and the app shows me this screen:

Now I see that the print has just gotten to layer 2 of 123 slices total, it started at 1:58pm and it will finish at 6:12pm this evening. It also displays the file name of the part and shows that I’m the owner.

If I slide the image of the printer to the left, I then get the camera view, since an F370 has a build-chamber camera that updates about every ten seconds. Because this print had just started, you can’t really see much beside the build plate (brightly lit at the top), but I can come back to that as often as I like to monitor a particularly challenging geometry – say, perhaps a tall thin part where I added some extra support structure.

At this point I can access several more windows. If I click Job Material Usage, I see

This information is useful if I need a reminder of how much model and support material this print will consume.

The next line offers the bigger picture: clicking through, I see how much material remains in each canister, for both the model and support; it also shows what, if any, material is loaded in the second set of bays. Stratasys printers with double bays will do an automatic hot-swap as needed – a nice feature over the weekend or in the middle of the night.

Here’s another possible status screen: a paused build, where I had planned ahead, inserting a Pause Build instruction in the GrabCAD job set-up. In this case, I wanted to stop the part and remove it, to create a sample piece that exposes the hexagram infill I chose for lightweighting. Another reason to pause and resume an FDM print is to add hardware such as a flat washer to reinforce a deep hole.

The GrabCAD Print App also sends me email alerts (with a chime on the phone) when the status of a print job changes, such as the message below telling me the job has indeed paused as planned:

(I don’t get notifications for other people’s jobs, so I don’t get inundated with messages.)

This real-time information lets me keep track of all my print jobs from my 3D Printing Command Center deep in the heart of suburban Phoenix. I can do 98% of what I need to remotely.

Of course, I depend on the engineers in PADT’s Manufacturing group – essential workers who’ve been in the office non-stop throughout this crazy 2020 work-year. They change filament, load clean trays, run calibrations, remove parts, and put finished prints in our Support Cleaning Apparatus tanks (a PADT-developed system spun off to Oryx and OEM’d to Stratasys since 2009.) That step dissolves the soluble support. (For several of the engineering filaments I run, the support is break-away, and my team takes care of that, too.)

The GrabCAD Print App is available as a free download from the Apple app store. And all of this is in addition to how you can view and interact with GrabCAD Print itself from any computer, setting up a part to print as you sit in one city then uploading the print-ready file to a system across the state or across the country.

Got any questions about the app? We’d love to answer them.

PADT Inc. is a globally recognized provider of Numerical Simulation, Product Development and 3D Printing products and services. For more information on Stratasys printers and materials, contact us at info@padtinc.com.

FDM printed part with surface texture added in SolidWorks 2020.

Printing 3D Texture on FDM 3D Printed Parts – it can be done!

While many examples exist of impressive texturing done on 3D printed Stratasys PolyJet printed parts (some wild examples are here), I have to admit it took me a while to learn that true texturing can also be added to Stratasys Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) parts. This blog post will walk you through adding texture to all faces or some faces of a solid model, ready for FDM printing. You, too, may be surprised by the results.

I know that complex texturing is possible in a graphics sense with such software packages as Rhino, PhotoShop, Blender and more, but I’m going to show you what you can achieve simply by working with SolidWorks, from Rev. 2019 onwards, as an easy starting point. From there, you can follow the same basic steps but import your own texture files.

Example of Stratasys FDM part set up to print with a checkerboard surface texture. (Image courtesy PADT Inc.)
Example of Stratasys FDM part set up to print with a checkerboard surface texture. (Image courtesy PADT Inc.)

SolidWorks Texture Options

First off, let’s clarify some terms. Texture mapping has existed for years and strictly speaking creates a 2D “texture” or pattern. If I were to wrap that imagery around a 3D CAD model and print it on, say, a PolyJet multi-color 3D printer, I’d get a 3D part with a flat or perhaps curved surface decorated with a multi-color “picture” such as a map or a photo of leather. It could conform, but it’s still basically a decal.

A 3D texture instead is more properly referred to as Bump Mapping (not to be confused with …..too late….bit mapping). Bump mapping interprets the color/contrast information of a 2D image such that it renders light and shadow to give the illusion of a 3D part, while remaining in 2D. Taking this concept one step further, 3D CAD software such as SolidWorks can apply rules that convert white, black and grey shades into physical displacements, producing a kind of tessellated topology mapping. This new information can be saved as an STL file and generate a 3D printed part that has physical, tactile variations in material height across its surface. (For a detailed explanation and examples of texture versus bump-mapping, see the GrabCAD Tutorial “Adding Texture to 3D Models.”)

For FDM parts, you’ll get physical changes on the outer surface of the part that appear as your choice of say, a checkerboard, an arrangement of stars, a pebbly look or a series of waves. In the CAD software, you have a number of options for editing that bump map to produce bigger or smaller, higher or lower, finer or coarser variations of the original pattern, prior to saving the model file as an STL file.

Stepping through SolidWorks 3D Texturing

The key to making this option work in SolidWorks 3D CAD software (I’m using SolidWorks 2020), is in the Appearances tab. Here are the steps I’ve taken, highlighting the variety of choices you can make. My example is the Post-It Note holder I described in my PADT blog post about advanced infill options in GrabCAD Print.

  1. Open Post-It note CAD file, select Solid Bodies (left menu) and select Appearances (in the right toolbar).
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  1. Expand Appearances and go all the way down to Miscellaneous, then click to open the 3D Textures folder.
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  1. Scroll down to choose one of the more than 50 (currently) available patterns. Here, I’ve chosen a 5-pointed star pattern.
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  1. I dragged and dropped that pattern onto the part body. A window opens up with several choices: the default is to apply the pattern to all faces:
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However, you can mouse over within that pop-window to select only a single face, like this:

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  1. When you’ve applied the pattern to either all faces or just one or two, you’ll see a new entry in the left window, Appearances, with the subheading: 5-pointed Star. Right-click on those words, and choose Edit Appearance:
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Then the Appearances window expands as follows, opening by default to the Color/Image tab:

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In this pane, if desired, you could even Browse to switch to a different pattern you have imported in a separate file.

  1. Click on Mapping, and you’ll see a number of “thumb wheel” sliders for resizing the pattern either via the wheel, clicking the up/down arrows, or just entering a value.

Mapping: this moves the pattern – you can see it march left or right, up or down. I used it to center the stars so there aren’t any half-stars cut off at the edge.

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Size/Orientation: You can also try “Fit width to selection” or “Fit height to selection,” or experiment with height and width yourself, and even tilt the pattern at an angle. (If you don’t like the results, click on Reset Scale.) Here, I’ve worked with it to have two rows of five stars.

  1. Remember I said that you can also make the pattern higher or lower, like a change in elevation, so that it stands out a little or a lot. To make those choices, go to the Solid Bodies line in the Feature Manager tree, expand it, and click on the part name (mine is Champfer2).

In the fly-out window that appears, click on the third icon in the top row, “3D Texture.” This opens up an expanded window where you can refine the number of triangular facets that make up the shape of the selected texture pattern. In case you are working with more than one face and/or different patterns on each face, you would check the box under Texture Settings for each face when you want to edit it.

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Here is where you can flip the pattern to extend outwards, or be recessed inwards, or, if you brought in a black/white 2D pattern in the first place, you can use this to convert it to a true 3D texture.

I’ll show you some variations of offset distance, refinement and element size, with exaggerated results, so you can see some of the possible effects:

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In this first example, the only change I made from the default was to increase the Texture Offset Distance from 0.010 to 0.200. The stars are extending out quite visibly.

Next, I changed Texture Refinement from 0% to 66.7%, and now you can see the stars more distinctly, with better defined edges:

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Finally, I am going to change the Element size from 0.128 to 0.180in. It made the star edges only slightly sharper, though at the expense of increasing the number of facets from about 24,000 to 26,000; for large parts and highly detailed texturing, the increased file size could slow down slicing time.

  1. To make sure these textured areas print, you have to do one more special step: Convert to Mesh Body. Do this in the Feature Manager by right-clicking on the body, and selecting the second icon in the top row, “Convert to Mesh Body.” You can adjust some of these parameters, too, but I accepted the defaults.
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  1. Lastly, Save the file in STL format, as usual.

At my company, PADT, my favorite FDM printer is our F370, so I’m going to set this up in GrabCAD Print software, to print there in ABS, at 0.005in layers:

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You can definitely see the stars popping out on the front face; too bad you can also see two weird spikes part-way up, that are small bits of a partial row of stars. That means I should have split the face before I applied the texture, so that the upper portion was left plain. Well, next time.

Here’s the finished part, with its little spikes:

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And here’s another example I did when I was first trying out a checkerboard pattern; I applied the texture to all faces, so it came out a bit interesting with the checkerboard on the top and bottom, too. Again, next time, I would be more selective to split up the model.

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NOTE: It’s clear that texturing works much better on vertical faces than horizontal, due to the nature of the FDM layering process – just be sure to orient your parts to allow for this.

For More Information on Texturing

SolidWorks offers a number of tutorials on the texturing set-up process, such as http://help.solidworks.com/2019/english/solidworks/sldworks/c_3d_textures.htm, and Shuvom Ghose at GrabCAD gives even more details about what to expect with this process in his post https://grabcad.com/tutorials/how-to-3d-texture-your-parts-for-fdm-printing-using-solidworks-2019

There will also be a general Stratasys webinar on The Benefits of 3D Printing Physical Textures on July 29 at 9am PT.

Commercial aircraft companies are already adding a pebble texture to flight-approved cosmetic FDM parts, such as covers for brackets and switches that keep them from being bumped. If you try this out, let us know what texture you chose and send us a photo of your part.

PADT Inc. is a globally recognized provider of Numerical Simulation, Product Development and 3D Printing products and services, and is an authorized reseller of Stratasys products. For more information on Stratasys printers and materials, contact us at info@padtinc.com.

Five Ways to Save Time and Money in Your Product Development Process Using the Stratasys J55

Is your current prototyping process costing you more time and money than it should?

Bring higher quality modeling in-house at your team’s elbow, and straight into the design process. Using traditional production methods is costing your product development teams time and money.

Quality model shops have a long queue and large price tag, traditional modeling by hand is laborious and time consuming, and outsourcing comes with a laundry list of communication headaches, IP theft concerns, and extra costs.


Ready to learn more?


Make communication easier, improve design quality, and reduce time to market.

Click the link below to download the solution guide and discover five ways the Stratasys J55 can help you save time and money during the product development process. 

Download Here

Introducing the Stratasys J55 3D Printer – Possibilities at Every Turn

From perfecting products to applying concepts learned in the classroom, Stratasys can help you realize any number of design ideas. The new J55 introduces a rotating print platform for outstanding surface finish and printing quality, and features multimaterial capabilities and material configurations for both industrial and mechanical design.

The Stratasys J55 3D Printer is a huge leap forward for accessible, full color 3D printing and allows designers to have multiple iterations of a prototype ready and at their fingertips throughout every phase of the design process.

Enhanced 3D printing capabilities include – static print head, rotating build tray, UV LED illumination technology, new material cartridge design, and more. The full reliability and quality of PolyJet technology created for an office or studio environment, at an affordable price.

Designed for consistent, stable performance, the J55 requires zero mechanical calibrations and features a “ready-to-print” mode, so you can make ideas a reality without interruption.

Click the link below to download the product brochure and learn how this innovative new machine is revolutionizing the world of additive manufacturing. 

Varied Infill Options for CAD models brought into GrabCAD Print software for 3D Printing. (Image courtesy PADT)

GrabCAD Print Software, Part Two: Simplify Set-ups, Save Time, and Do Cool Stuff You Hadn’t Even Considered

(Edited 3 August 2020 to reflect GrabCAD Print V1.44)

You haven’t really lived in the world of 3D printing until you’ve had a part fail spectacularly due to open faces, self-intersecting faces or inverted normals. Your part ends up looking more like modern art than technical part. Or perhaps the design you have in mind has great geometry but you wish that some parts could have regions that are dense and strong while other regions would work with minimal infill.

In Part One of this blog post about GrabCAD Print software, we covered the basics of setting up and printing a part; now we’ll look at several of the advanced features that save you set-up time and result in better parts.

Behind the Scenes Repairs

Stratasys GrabCAD Print software, available as a free download, is crafted for users setting up solid models for 3D printing on Stratasys FDM and PolyJet printers. Once you’ve started using it, you’ll find one of its many useful advanced features is the automated STL file-repair option.

Imported STL file, with GrabCAD Print ready to automatically repair errors. PADT image.

Most people still create solid models in CAD software then convert the file to the industry-standard STL format before opening it in a given 3D printer’s own set-up software. Every CAD package works a little differently to generate an STL file, and once in a while the geometry just doesn’t get perfectly meshed. Triangles may overlap, triangles may end up very long and very skinny, or the vector that signals “point in” or “point out” can get reversed.

Traditionally, the 3D printer set-up program reacts to these situations by doing one of two things: it prints exactly what you tell it to print (producing weird holes and shifted layers) or it simply refuses to print at all. Both situations are due to tiny errors in the conversion of a solid CAD model to a tessellated surface.

GrabCAD Print, however, gives your file a once-over and immediately flags sections of the model in need of repair. You can see a color-coded representation of all the problem areas, choose to view just some or all, and then click on Automatic Repair. No hand-editing, no counting layers and identifying sections where the problems reside – just a click of the virtual button and all the problem regions are identified, repaired and ready for the next processing steps.

CAD vs. STL: Do So Much More with CAD

GrabCAD Print also uniquely allows users to bring in their models in the original CAD file-format (from SolidWorks, Autodesk, PTC, Siemens, etc.) or neutral formats, with no need to first convert it to STL. For FDM users, this means GrabCAD recognizes actual CAD bodies, faces, and features, letting you make build-modifications directly in the print set-up stage that previously would have required layer-by-layer slice editing, or couldn’t have been done at all.

For example, with a little planning ahead, you can bring in a multi-body CAD model (i.e., an assembly), assemble and group the parts, then direct GrabCAD to apply different parameters to each body. This way you can reinforce some areas at full density then change the infill pattern, layout, and density in other regions where full strength is unnecessary.

Here’s an example of a SolidWorks model intended for printing with a solid lower base but lighter weight (saving material) in the upper sections. It’s a holder for Post-It® notes, comprising three individual parts – lower base, upper base and upper slot – combined and saved as an assembly.

Sample multi-body part ready to bring into GrabCAD Advanced FDM. Image PADT.

Sample multi-body part ready to bring into GrabCAD Advanced FDM. Image PADT.

Here was my workflow:

1 – I brought the SolidWorks assembly into GrabCAD, assembled and grouped all the bodies, selected an F370 Stratasys FDM printer, chose Print Settings of acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) and 0.010 inches layer height, and oriented the part.

2 -To ensure strength in the lower base, I selected just that section (you can do this either in the model tree or on the part itself) and opened the Model Settings menu at the right. Under Body, I chose Solid Infill.

3 – Next I selected the upper base, chose Hexagram, and changed the Infill Density to 60%.

4 – Lastly, I selected the upper slot section, chose Sparse, and changed the Infill Density to 35%.

5 – With all three sections defined, I clicked on Slice Preview, sliced the model and used the slider bar on the left to step through each section’s toolpath. For the screenshots, I turned off showing Support Material; the yellow bits indicate where seams start (another parameter that can be edited).

Here is each section highlighted, with screenshots of the parameter choices and how the part infill looks when sliced:

Upper base set up in GrabCAD to print as Hexagram pattern, 60% infill; sliced toolpath shown at right. Image PADT.
Upper slot section set up in GrabCAD to print as Sparse pattern, 35% infill; sliced toolpath shown at right. Image PADT.

So that you can really see the differences, I printed the part four times, stopping as the infill got partway through each section, then letting the final part print to completion. Here are the three partial sections, plus my final part:

Lower base (solid), upper base (hexagram) and first part of upper slot (sparse), done as partial prints. Image PADT.
Completed note-holder set up in GrabCAD Print, Advanced FDM mode, weighted toward the bottom but light-weighted internally. Image PADT.
Completed note-holder set up in GrabCAD Print using advanced infill features, weighted toward the bottom but light-weighted internally. Image PADT.

Automated Hole Sizing Simplifies Adding Inserts

But like the old advertisements say, “But wait – there’s more!” Do you use heat-set inserts a lot to create secure connections between 3D printed parts and metal hardware? Planning ahead for the right hole size, especially if you have different design groups involved and fasteners may not yet be decided, this is the feature for you.

Sample part set up for easy insert additions, using Advanced FDM in GrabCAD Print. Image PADT.

Sample part set up for easy insert additions, using advanced, automated hole-resizing features in GrabCAD Print. Image PADT.

In your CAD part model, draw a hole that is centered where you know the insert will go, give it a nominal diameter and use Cut/Extrude so that the hole is at least the depth of your longest candidate insert. Save the file in regular CAD format, not STL. Next bring your part into GrabCAD Print and go to Model Settings in the right-hand menu.

This time, click on Face (not Body) and Select the inner cylindrical wall of your hole. Several options will become active, including Apply Insert. When you check that box, a new drop-down will appear, giving you the choice of adding a heat-set insert, a helicoil insert or creating a custom size. Below that you select either Inch or Metric, and for either, the appropriate list of standard insert sizes appears.

Automatic hole-resizing in GrabCAD Print, for a specific, standard heat-set insert. Image PADT.

Choose the insert you want, click Update in the upper middle of the GrabCAD screen, and you’ll see the hole-size immediately changed (larger or smaller as needed). The new diameter will match the required oversized dimensions for the correct (melted into place) part-fit. You can even do this in a sidewall! (For tips on putting inserts into FDM parts, particularly with a soldering iron, see Adding Inserts to 3D Printed Parts: Hardware Tips.)

Note that this way, you can print the overall part with a sparse infill, yet reinforce the area around the insert to create just the right mass to make a solid connection. The Sliced view will show the extra contours added around each hole.

Sliced view showing insert holes with reinforced walls, done in GrabCAD Print. Image PADT.
Manufacturing notes automatically created in GrabCAD Print when insert holes are resized. Image PADT.

To document the selected choices for whoever will be doing the insert assembly, GrabCAD also generates a numbered, manufacturing-footnote that lists each insert’s size; this information can be exported as a PDF file that includes a separate close-up image of each insert’s location.

GrabCAD Print keeps adding very useful functions. Download it for free and try it out with template versions of the various Stratasys 3D printers, then email or call us to learn more.

PADT Inc. is a globally recognized provider of Numerical Simulation, Product Development and 3D Printing products and services. For more information on Stratasys printers and materials, contact us at info@padtinc.com.

Introducing the Stratasys J826 – Full-color, multi-material printing for the enterprise design world

Taking risks attempting to capture design intent at the end of the process requires a lot of post-processing (coloring, assemblies, a mix of technologies, etc.) – when its too time consuming, expensive and late to make changes or correct errors. Stratasys PolyJet 3D printing technology is developed to elevate designs by realizing ideas more quickly and more accurately and taking color copies to the next level.

By putting realistic models in a designer’s hands earlier in the process, companies can promote better decisions and a superior final product. Now, with the Stratasys J8 Series, the same is true for prototypes. This tried and tested technology simplifies the entire design process, streamlining workflows so you can spend more time on what matters –creating, refining, and designing the best product possible.

PADT is excited to introduce the new Stratasys J826 3D printer 

Based on J850 technology, the J826 supplies the same end-to-end solution for the design process and ultra-realistic simulation at a lower price point.
Better communicate design intent and drive more confident results with prototypes that realistically portray an array of design alternatives.

The Stratasys J826 3D Printer is able to deliver realism, shorter time to market, and streamlined application thanks to a variety of unique attributes that set it apart from most other Polyjet printers:

  • High Quality – The J826 can accurately print smaller features at a layer thickness of 14µm to 27µm. As part of the J8 series of printers it is also capable of printing in ultra-realistic Pantone validated colors.
  • Speed & Productivity – Three printing speed modes (high speed, high quality & high mix) allows the J826 to always operate at the most efficient speed for each print. It can also avoid unnecessary down-time associate with material changeovers thanks to it’s built-in material cabinet and workstation.
  • Easy to Use – A smooth workflow with the J826 comes from simple integration with the CAD format of your choice, as well as a removable tray for easy clean up, and automated support creation and removal.

Are you ready to learn how the new Stratasys J826 provides the same quality and accuracy as other J8 series printers at a lower cost?

Provide the requested information via the form linked below and one of PADT’s additive experts will reach out to share more on what makes this new offering so exciting for the enterprise design world.

Start a Conversation

Bring Your Most Imaginative Ideas to Life with Pantone Validation on the Stratasys J750 & J735

If seeing is believing, holding something this vivid is knowing for sure.

The Stratasys J735 and J750 deliver unrivaled aesthetics to your brightest ideas and boldest ambitions with true, full-color capability, texture mapping and color gradients.

3D print prototypes that look, feel and operate like the finished products in multiple materials and colors without sacrificing time for intricacy and complexity. Better communicate designs with vivid, realistic samples, and save on manual post-processing delays and costs.

Stratasys J735 and J750 printers are PANTONE Validated™

This validation makes the Pantone Matching System (PMS) Colors available for the first time in a 3D printing solution. It provides a universal language of color that enables color-critical decisions through every stage of the workflow for brands and manufacturers. It helps define, communicate and control color from inspiration to realization.

Color matching to Pantone Colors in a single click

GrabCAD Print software provides a quicker, more realistic expression of color in your models and prototypes, saving hours over traditional paint matching or iterative color matching processes.

  • Adding Pantone color selection increases the color gamut found within the GrabCAD Print Application and simplifies the color selection process
  • Designers can access the colors directly from GrabCAD Print, selecting Pantone within the Print Settings dialog box. From within this view the user can search for their desired Pantone color or select from the list.

Multiple material selections

This means  you can load up to six materials at once, including any combination of rigid, flexible, transparent or opaque materials and their components.

Double the number of print nozzles

More print heads means you can produce ultra-smooth surfaces and fine details with layer thickness as fine as 0.014 mm—about half the width of a human skin cell.

Discover how you can achieve stronger realism and color matching thanks to the Pantone Validation available on the Stratasys J750 & J735.

Contact the industry experts at PADT via the link below for more information:

Getting to Know PADT: Stratasys 3D Printer Sales and Support

 This post is the eleventh installment in our review of all the different products and services PADT offers our customers. As we add more, they will be available here.  As always, if you have any questions don’t hesitate to reach out to info@padtinc.com or give us a call at 1-800-293-PADT.

When it comes to delivering accurate, robust, and feature-rich additive manufacturing, commonly called 3D Printing, to professional users, one brand of systems stands above all the rest: Stratasys. For over a decade PADT has been a reseller of these outstanding machines in the four-corners states of Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah. In fact, our leadership position in the Additive Manufacturing space is built on the foundation of our sales and support history with Stratasys.

Stratasys, The World Leader in Additive Manufacturing

There is one simple reason why Stratasys is the world leader in Additive Manufacturing systems and why so many of our customers keep buying Stratasys systems: They Work.  The whole point of 3D Printing is that you can go from a computer model to a real part as quickly and easily as possible. Stratasys has created a complete set of hardware, material, and software to make that happen.  For hardware, they offer two additive manufacturing technologies: FDM and PolyJet.

FDM, or Fused Deposition Modeling, is the most common technology because it is reliable, accurate and builds strong parts.  FDM was invented by Stratasys over 25 years ago and still forms the foundation of their product line.  It is a layered deposition process that melts a variety of plastics that are then extruded through a nozzle to draw the shape of each layer. From the desktop MakerBot machines to the industry favorite FORTUS 900, there is a machine that works for every need.  Recently, we have been selling a large number of F370’s to new an existing customers.  FMD systems come in a variety of sizes, speeds, costs, and most importantly, material options.  And best of all, the majority of FDM systems come with Stratasys’ patented soluble support material that makes support removal as easy as dropping your part into a cleaning system. These days, establishing an online business is one of the easiest paths to financial freedom, and Amazon is one of the best places to do it. Simply put, Amazon is the most visited and popular online marketplace today. There are just so many opportunities for you to seize. However, because of the many benefits to selling on Amazon, the market can be quite competitive. Putting up your products for sale on Amazon is no guarantee that you’ll make sales. The process of generating income from your Amazon business is more difficult than what most internet marketers would have you believe. Like any other business worth doing, whether online or offline, there are skills and processes to learn if you’re going to make a profit on Amazon. Just getting your products listed on the site will require lots of complicated steps. After you overcome that hurdle, you will have to carry out more measures to ensure that your shop will produce the most profit possible. There are many articles online that can help you learn how to start an Amazon FBA business. However, relying on these articles will lead you to another roadblock—how to weed out the bad advice from the good. If you want to take the easy route, what you need to do is to find established, tried and tested marketing techniques that are proven to bring your business to the top. This is when the Amazon Selling Machine course comes into play. You can also visit https://imminentbusiness.com/amazing-selling-machine-review/ for better information.

If you need greater refinement, the ability to change material, or color, then PolyJet technology is your ideal solution.  The power of PolyJet is that it uses inkjet print heads to deposit tiny dots of liquid material on a build layr. That material is then hardened with an ultraviolet lamp. What is cool is that you can have multiple inkjet print heads and therefore deposit a mix of material within a given layer. This allows you to make parts with very hard, or very soft material in the same build. Or, to mix clear and colors in the same build.  Our customers use Polyjet printers to make everything from accurate medical models of organs to molds for plastic injection molding.  No other 3D Printing technology is as versatile as the PolyJet machines from Stratasys.

The PADT Sales Experience

Lots of people sell 3D Printers. We know because we have been doing it for over fifteen years. And as the technology has become more popular, more and more people are getting into the industry.  Our experience and technically driven sales approach is why customers keep coming to PADT when they have so many choices.  Our sales team is not about this months sales goal. They are about building, and more often than not, growing our relationship with customers new and old.  We are all about understanding what you really want to get done, and then finding the right combination of Additive Manufacturing system, accessories, and software that will make it happen.

That expertise comes from the fact that we have been running a 3D Printing service since 1994.  We know the real world of Additive Manufacturing.  No other reseller can bring our expertise and experience to your aid.

Support that Goes Above and Beyond

Once you purchase a system, your journey with PADT hits full swing. Our engineers will help you install, train your users, and then be there when you need us for maintenance and repair. Or simply to answer your questions.  We recently won a series of competitive situations where customers had a choice of who to hire to support their Stratasys systems. They chose PADT over other solutions for one simple reason: we know what we are doing and we really do care.  Our team has driven through snow storms, stayed with machines late into the night, and personally shipped replacement parts just so they could get customer’s machines back online and running as quickly as possible.

Talk to PADT about your Additive Manufacturing Needs

ULA’s Kyle Whitlow demonstrates the ECS duct that was printed using FDM

Regardless of what systems you currently have, or if you don’t have any 3D Printing capability in-house, now is the time to talk to PADT.  We have never had a better offering of solutions in terms of price, performance, and variety of capability.  We are helping universities establish labs, Aerospace companies 3D Print hardware for launch vehicles, and consumer products companies shorten their design cycle.  It may be time for you to upgrade or add a new material or technology. Or maybe you just need some accessories to get more out of the equipment you have.  Regardless of where you are in your Additive Manufacturing journey, PADT is here to help you get more out of your investment.

Getting to Know PADT: 3D Printing Services

This post is the sixth installment in our review of all the different products and services PADT offers our customers. As we add more, they will be available here.  As always, if you have any questions don’t hesitate to reach out to info@padtinc.com or give us a call at 1-800-293-PADT.

If there is one service that most people connect PADT with it is our 3D Printing Services.  We have been making prototypes for companies using this ever-advancing technology since we started the company in 1994. As 3D Printing has become more popular and entered the mainstream even beyond engineering, what 3D Printing means to people has changed as well. Along with that, people’s understanding of exactly what it is we do in this area has drifted a little from what goes on. In this month’s installment of our “Getting to Know PADT” series, we will work to provide insight into what 3D Printing Services are and how they can benefit your company. You can visit www.tristaroffset.com for the best printing company in the New York.

What is “3D Printing” and “3D Printing Services?”

To start, it should be called “Additive and Advanced Manufacturing and Prototyping Services, ” but people search for “3D Printing” so that is what we call it.  3D Printing is the common name for what is technically referred to as Additive Manufacturing, or AM.  Most physical parts are made (manufactured) by casting or shaping material into a shape you want, removing material from stock to get the shapes you want, and/or combining physical parts you get by the other two methods. Instead of these well-proven methods, AM creates a part by building up material one layer at a time.  That is why it is called additive – it adds layers of material to get a shape. Here is an older blog article showing the most common technologies used in AM.

The advantage of this approach is that you just need one machine to make a part, you can go straight from a computer model to that part, and you are not held back by the physical constraints of traditional processes. These features allow anyone to make a part and to make shapes we just could not create before.  At first, we only used it for prototypes before parts were made. Then we started to make tools to make final products, and now 3D Printing is employed to manufacturing end-use parts.

In the world of mechanical engineering, where 3D Printing is heavily used, we call companies that use additive manufacturing to make parts for others 3D Printing Service Bureaus or 3D Printing Service Providers. Therefore, the full process of doing manufacturing using the technology is called: 3D Printing Services.

The critical word in that last sentence is “full.”  Sending a computer model to a 3D Printer is just one of many steps involved in Additive Manufacturing.  When the service is employed correctly, it includes identifying the right type of additive manufacturing to use, preparing the geometry, setting parameters on the machine, printing the parts, removing supports, cleaning the parts, sanding, applying a surface finish treatment, and then inspection and shipping.  Anyone can send a part to a printer; the other steps are what make the difference between simply printing a part, and producing a great part.

What Services does PADT Offer?

Additive Manufacturing covers a wide range of technologies that create parts one layer at a time, using a variety of approaches. Some extrude, some harden, some use an inkjet print head, and still others melt material.  What they have in common is creating solid geometry one layer at a time. Each technology has its own unique set of advantages, and that is why PADT offers so many different 3D Printing technologies for our customers.  Each of these approaches has unique part preparations, machine parameters, and post-printing processes. Each with a unique set of advantages.  The key to success is knowing which technology is best for each part and then executing it correctly.

Currently, PADT’s 3D Printing Services Group makes parts for customers using the following technologies.  Each one listed has a brief description of its advantages.  See our website for more details.

Technology

Abbrv.

Advantages

Fused
Deposition Modeling

FDM

Strong parts

Easy operation

Reliability of systems

Broad material choice

Water soluble supports

Fast

Cost

Polyjet

PolyJet

Multiple materials in a single build

Broad material choices

Custom material choices

Multiple colors in single build

Water soluble supports

Accuracy

Stereolithography

SLA

Part quality

Material options

Speed

Speed

Material properties

Self supporting

Selective
Laser Sintering

SLS

Digital
Light Synthesis

DLS

Speed

Production capable

Surface Finish

Material Choices

Material properties

Orthotropic properties

Direct
Laser Melting (Metal)

DLM

Fully dense metal parts

Accuracy

Speed

Part strength

As a proud reseller for Stratasys systems, we feel strongly that the two primary technologies from Stratasys, FDM and Polyjet, are the best for customers who want to do Additive Manufacturing in-house or as a service provider. When customers need something different, they can come to PADT to take advantage of the unique capabilities found in each technology.

How is 3D Printing with PADT Better?

The difference is in what we know and how to execute the complete process.  As a provider of 3D Printing services for over 23 years, very few people in the industry even come close to the amount of experience that we bring to the table.  We also know product development and traditional manufacturing, so when a customer comes to us with a need, we understand what they are asking to do and why. That helps us make the right recommendation on process, material, and post-processing.

A few differentiators are:

  • We know our machines
  • We know our materials
  • We offer a wide range of plastic and metal materials
  • We understand post-processing
  • We understand support removal (we manufacture the leading support removal system)
  • We understand design and manufacturing
  • In-house machining, painting, and part finishing
  • In-house inspection and quality
  • Employees who are enthusiastic and dedicated to providing the right solution.

In addition to all of these things, PADT also offers On-Demand Manufacturing as a Carbon Production Partner. We combine Carbon’s DLS technology with our existing and proven manufacturing processes to provide low volume manufacturing solutions for plastic components.

We are also always looking at the latest technologies and adding what our customers need.  You can see this with the recent addition of systems from ConceptLaser, Carbon and Desktop Metal systems.

 

Next Steps and Where to Learn More

The very best way to learn more about PADT’s 3D Printing services is to have us print a part. The full experience and the final product will explain why, with so many choices, so many companies large and small count on us for their Additive Manufacturing. If you need to learn more, you can also contact us at 480.813.4884 or rp@padtinc.com.

Here are some links that you may find useful:

 

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Stratasys – PolyJet Agilus 30 Webinar

Introducing New PolyJet Material: Agilus30

PADT is excited to introduce the newest polyjet material available from Stratasys, Agilus30! Agilus30 is a superior Rubber-like PolyJet photopolymer family ideal for advanced design verification and rapid prototyping.

Get more durable, tear-resistant prototypes that can stand up to repeated flexing and bending. With a Shore A value of 30 in clear or black, Agilus30 accurately simulates the look, feel and function of Rubber-like products. 3D print rubber surrounds, overmolds, soft-touch coatings, living hinges, jigs and fixtures, wearables, grips and seals with improved surface texture.

Agilus30 has applications in a number of areas, including:

  • Medical Models

  • Tooling needing rubber-like characteristics

  • Consumer Goods

  • Sporting Goods

  • General Prototyping

  • Overmolding & many more!

Want to know more about PolyJet’s toughest flexible material to date? 

Join PADT’s 3D Printing Application Engineer James Barker along with Stratasys Materials Business Manager Ken Burns for a presentation on the various benefits and attributes that Agilus30 has to offer, which machines are compatible with it, and how companies are making use of it’s unique capabilities.

An inside look at our Connex500

We wanted to see what 3d printing looked like from the inside of the machine so our new intern, Diserae Sanders, placed a GoPro inside our Connex500 during a print job.  The item being printed is a demo bicycle pedal printed in multiple materials.  

This video is the first in a series we plan to do on 3D printing. If there is something you would like to see us do a video on, please post it in the comments below.

Stratasys adds flexible color to their digital material palettes

connex3_shorevaluepress_hand_horiz
Earlier this week, Stratasys announced the addition of 10 new color pallets expanding the digital materials offering to represent hundreds of new options of both flexible color materials and rigid gray materials available for the Objet500 Connex3 Color Multi-material 3D Printer

connex3_flexpalette_cyt_hands_portrait  connex3_flexpalette_myt_hands_portrait  connex3_flexpalette_mct_hands_portrait

The first three pallets are built using TangoPlus combined with combinations of VeroCyan, VeroMagenta and VeroYellow. These new pallets allow for the printing of a range of colors and translucent tints in nine Shore A values (Shore A 27-95).

connex3_flexpalette_cyk_hands_portrait  connex3_flexpalette_mck_hands_portrait  connex3_flexpalette_myk_hands_portrait

Three additional pallets using TangoBlack Plus and combinations of VeroCyan, VeroMagenta and VeroYellow allow for users to blend a wide range of subtle vibrant-to-dark shades into the same part with TangoBlack Plus in seven Shore A values.

connex3_mkw_palette_portrait  connex3_ykw_palette_portrait  connex3_kwt_palette_portrait

The final four palettes that were introduced offer additional combinations of VeroWhite and VeroBlack with either VeroCyan, VeroMagenta or VeroYellow allowing for users to build sophisticated prototypes in a range of subtle grays alongside muted or vibrant color. 

connex3_blue_palette_landscape
The addition of these ten palettes combined with their existing palettes allow for virtually limitless combinations of flexible, rigid and translucent colors in one print job.

“The Objet500 Connex3 is the only 3D printer that combines colors with multi-material 3D printing. The ability to mix rigid, flexible, transparent and opaque colors offers users unprecedented versatility to design and perfect products faster,” says Stratasys Director of Materials & Applications Fred Fischer. “By extending the range of material options available, users can improve workflow speeds and enhance efficiency.”

These new options are available immediately to Objet500 Connex3 Color Multi-material 3D Printer owners through a free software update. 

Check out this great video on the new materials.

Polyjet 3D Printers Up and Running in Denver and Albuquerque Offices

PADT-Polyjet-Albuquerque PADT-Polyjet-Denver

With all the opening and moving of offices we failed to notice that our crack sales team sold all of our demonstration 3D Printing and rapid manufacturing machines out from underneath us.  This made it easier to move, but hard on customers who wanted to see these systems in action.  So we took the opportunity to not only replace the FDM systems in our offices, but to also add Objet30 Pro desktop printers in our New Mexico and Colorado offices.  In the past we only had Polyjet systems in our Tempe facility.

If you are not familiar with the advantages of Polyjet 3D Printing when compared to FDM or other technologies, contact us to arrange a visit to our Littleton, Albuquerque, or Tempe offices to not only see these machines in action, but to also see sample parts we have made on them.

 

 

 

Six Things to Do when Shopping for a 3D Printer

Stratasy-Mojo-3D-Printer-in-Shopping-CartPADT has been in this prototyping business for a while, even before we called the machines that make physical parts directly from computer models a 3D Printer.  When we started it was rapid prototyping and we have purchased maybe a dozen machines for our own use, and sold several hundred to our customers.  As the cost of these systems comes down and the number of people interested in having their own 3D Printer goes up, we thought it would be a good time to share our experience with choosing systems with the community.

Here are six things that every person should do when they are shopping for a 3D printer. Many people also follows tips from Vendel Miniatures for shopping. We even recommend that you write these down and fill out a form before you contact the first vendor.

Thing 1:  Understand What you will use your Parts For

This seems obvious. You would not be looking for a 3D printer unless you knew you needed one and you knew what you needed it for.  But in reality it is very easy to get caught up in how powerful and just plane cool this technology is and you start thinking about what you can do, and you forget what you need to do.  The best way to approach this is to not think about which technology you may end up with, that will point you in one direction or another. Just assume you push a button and a prototype of your part comes out. What would you actually use it for?

The key here is to be honest. If the reality is that your receptionist really likes models of Japanese Anime characters, and you plan on making models of such in an attempt to get her attention, then be honest about that. You need a printer with the detail and perhaps color capability for that. But if you really think about it you probably need one to make patterns for doing custom composite layups, so your use will be very different and the so will the system you need.  She probably will be just impressed with your layup tooling. Well, maybe not but your boss will.

image

Our experience tells us that customers often get hung up on features that they get excited about, but when you look at the end use of their prototypes, they really do not need some of those features.  We have seen people buy a machine because it was the only one that did this one thing they got fixated on. But in the end, they only make two prototypes that need it a year and the other 137 prototypes they make are kind of sucky.  Make a list of all the uses and put a guess next to them that shows the percentage of parts that fit into that use.  A typical example would be:

  • 35% Mockups for design reviews
  • 25% Models for the machine shop and vendors to help them plan machining
  • 15% Fixtures for testing
  • 10% Consumer testing and marketing mockups for ad campaigns
  • 10% Fit models to build
  •   5% Other

Thing 2: Benchmark the Machines on your Geometry

DinoFingersClose-TangoGrayHR

When we run into someone that is unhappy with their 3D Printer, three out of four timeswe find out that it just does not perform like they thought it would.  And if we dig deeper we find out that when they were shopping for a printer, they just looked at parts that the various vendors gave them. Demo parts. They never made a variety of their own typical parts.  This is especially true if they ended up buying a lower cost machine.

Here is a secret of every person selling a 3D Printer, that probably is no secret to you. They pick the demo parts they show you because those parts look really good on their technology. And if you are not closely familiar with the strengths and weaknesses of each technology, there is no way for you to know that the parts they showed you may be the only parts that actually look good on that technology.

Untitled_00252

Get four or five parts that are typical parts that you would prototype, and have them made on each technology.  Even if the vendor tells you they can only afford to make one sample part for you (with the cost coming down the margins on these machines is low so few in the business can do a bunch of free parts for every potential sale),  go ahead and pay money to get your geometry made.  You may be shocked by the results, especially on some of the newer low cost machines.

Thing 3: Ignore Hype or the Herd

Any fast growing industry has a lot of hype, and a lot of mob pressure to go with one technology over another.  3D Printing is no different, and in fact it is worse because this technology is so cool and interesting.  The problem with hype and herd mentality is that the company with the best public relations people or with the “hippest” story gets all the attention regardless of the technology. And it feeds on itself. They get more attention because they got more attention.

A case in point is the recent introduction of a hand-held fused deposition modeling system.  Very cool, lots of hype and interest.  But really, who could use that for real work?  Even a hobbyist is going to struggle with making anything useful with a tool like that. But there is a lot of hype around it right now and a huge amount of interest. I’ve had a taxi driver mention it to me when he asked what I do.

It is human nature to want to be part of something big. So it is hard to push that aside and look at each 3D Printer you are evaluating on its own merit. Not what the press is saying, not what other people are touting, not what is the newest and flashiest.  We are talking basic “make me a useable part” here.  Look at it with basic and non-influenced eyes.

Thing 4: Calculate the Total, Long Term Cost

Of all the things listed here, this may be the hardest to do. There are so many costs that go into making prototypes. The initial cost of the machine is small compared to all the other costs. What we recommend you do is make a spreadsheet and list cost items in the first column, and create rows for each 3D Printer you are looking at, then fill it out. We like to put in the cost over three years.

Here are some cost items we recommend people include:

  • System
  • Cleaning system
  • Facility modification costs
  • Build and support material
  • Cleaning materials
  • Maintenance fees
  • Labor to prepare jobs
  • Labor to post process jobs
  • Facility square footage for machines, cleaning equipment, material storage, etc…
  • Scrap rate cost (some systems have a higher scrap rate, you need to include the cost of lost time and material because of that)

Thing 5: Honestly Prioritize the Features you Want and Need

It is always a good idea to make a “want” and “need” list, regardless of what you are purchasing.  When you are dealing with a set of technologies with so much buzz around it, we feel it is doubly important.  Sitting down and making a list, then justifying it to someone else clarifies what you should be looking for more than anything.

We also recommend that you prioritize the list.  Marking things as Want and Need is a first step, then every one of those should also be ranked in order of importance.  You can use a point scheme or you can just put them in order from most to least.  This will help you sort through the gee-whiz stuff and truly understand where the value of your investment in 3D Printing can be found.

Needless to say, it is critical that you finish Thing 1, and refer to it, when completing this step.

Thing 6: Figure Out what is Good Enough, then Ask for More

OK, maybe this one sounds like a sales pitch: “You know what you really want, but really, trust me, you need more.”  Experience tells us that this is actually true. When you are talking 3D Printing we run into customer after customer that felt the system they purchased was “good enough” for their needs then they realize it does not do what they need.  And in most cases it is because they really needed a bigger machine, or they needed a more robust material than they thought.

The last thing you want to do is invest in a 3D Printer then six months later try and turn it in to get one that is bigger, faster, more precise, or that runs a better material.   Now you are still paying for the more expensive system and you wasted money on the less expensive one.  Be honest, upgrade in the beginning to what you really need in the long run not what you think you can get by with in the short run. Because, in the end, you will save money and have better parts.

Doing the Six Things and Getting that 3D Printer

You know you want one. You actually probably need one. We have been doing this for a long time and almost every customer that has made an intelligent investment feels like the investment has been a positive one. And by intelligent investment, we do not want to imply that they bought a system from PADT (although statistically that may be true). What we have found is that these companies took their time, they used some variation of the steps listed above, and they treated their purchase as a long term investment.

You too can make a smart choice and make in-house 3D Printing part of your company, job, or even hobby.  PADT is here ready to help you with that choice.  We can show you the complete line of fused deposition and Polyjet 3D Printers from Stratasys. We can also provide some advice on what we think is a good fit for your needs, and help you capture data for the six things we have outlined here.  And don’t forget, we have a full 3D Printing services offering, with all the major systems and materials. So we can show you the advantages of all of them by providing you with your outsourced parts while you look for an in-house solution.

Stratasys Objet Polyjet Systems