When it comes to modeling a part, the user has several options: solid, surface or organic modeling. The final choice of software is made naturally according to the needs and the representation that one wants to give to the 3D printed object. This can also be done depending on the printing technology or even the desired material.
Software for modeling solids
This includes CAD software (also computer-aided design), ideal for industrial use – and direct modeling software. The choice of your software depends primarily on your level of knowledge: If you are a beginner, stick with an accessible solution, as the modeling can quickly become complex. The choice also depends on the features you need, which are usually determined by your industry. Finally, you’re wondering whether or not you want cloud-based software to better manage your data.
Solid modeling often uses parametric designwhich, as the name suggests, allows to define a 3D model through easily interchangeable parameters: we do not model by drawing but by programming.
This type of solution allows the user to change the properties of a part, whether it is its length, its angle, its coordinates with respect to a reference point or its distance. It all starts with a drawing made up of closed 2D curves; the user adds to it a series of elements to create a 3D shape.
This technique is the generative design very similar, allowing to define design goals and constraints and to analyze the performance of each parameter (material, weight, strength, cost, etc.). The software examines all possible permutations of a design and quickly generates design alternatives. It tests and learns what works and what doesn’t with each iteration.
Parametric design is more rigid than direct modeling and is primarily used by mechanical engineers and industrial designers. Some of the most popular programs that integrate these features include Solidworks, Catia, CREO, Fusion 360, and FreeCAD as a free version.
It should be noted that according to a 3DHubs survey of 750 professionals, Solidworks is the most used CAD software, whether by engineers (50%) or designers (49%). AutoCAD, Fusion 360, and Rhino solutions follow, but are aimed more at designers.
Software for modeling surfaces
This type of design is generally appreciated by users looking for aesthetics. As the name suggests, this type of software defines the surface of the object rather than its fixed interior. In most cases, this software is used in artistic fields, especially in the animation and 3D compositing market. The best-known solutions are Catia from Dassault Systèmes, Blender or Rhinoceros. The latter, for example, is a tool that is particularly used by industrial designers and architects.
Organic modeling software
It allows the creation of free-form surfaces with very complex details and is generally used to design people or sculptures. The two most widely used programs on the market are undoubtedly Pixologic’s ZBrush and Autodesk’s Mudbox. They are very well known in the film industry or among jewelry designers.
After the 3D model has been created using modeling software, the next step is to ensure that it is 3D printable. There are many solutions to optimize or even simulate the printing of the part, thus reducing the risk of printing errors.
simulation and optimization software
Topological optimization software cannot be overlooked in the field of modeling and simulation software. These tools make it possible to define the best distribution of the material in a given volume, taking into account constraints. In other words, it removes the material from a part when it is not necessary for its proper function. The topology optimization therefore makes it possible to comply with load and resistance constraints while significantly reducing the bottom line. This optimization software offers more complex geometries, weight savings and therefore more performance in industries such as automotive or aerospace. Among the existing solutions we can name solidThinking Inspire, Ansys or Crea Simulate.
With the simulation software you can digitally predict results of a 3D printing process. They enable the user to save valuable time, as they detect possible printing errors in just a few minutes and thus reduce the costs that arise from high pressure losses. The user can simulate a number of parameters: deformation, temperature or post-processing. In addition, the need for print material can be determined and critical areas where deformation can occur can be identified.
The parameters to be simulated depend on the printing technology used. For example, in melt deposition, the focus will be on assessing the risks of warping – in these cases, the simulation helps to decide whether the component needs to be redesigned or whether the adhesion to the plate should be increased.
If powder sintering has been chosen, it may be necessary to create more or less hot areas, resulting in warping of the part or poor surface quality. By simulating these heat zones, these errors can be avoided.
Software to slice and repair your STL file
It’s the must-have if you want to 3D print: the slicer or slicing software slices the 3D model into thin layers that correspond to the different layer thicknesses that the printer creates.
The slicer transmits all the instructions it needs to follow – these are usually written in a programming language called G-code. For example, the slicer defines the resolution, the printing speed or the layer height. It is therefore a central piece of software in the additive manufacturing process. There are two categories of slicers for FDM 3D printers: universal open source software like Cura (developed by Ultimaker), Repetier or Slic3r, or paid software like Simplify3D, but also proprietary software like ReplicatorG at MakerBot, ZSuite at Zortrax or Voxelizer at ZMorph.
You can find our selection of slicer software for 3D printing HERE.
While simulation software can detect errors before printing, some can correct them: repair software is an important part of the printing process. Some slicers are able to detect the basic errors in the 3D file, but they don’t necessarily detect everything.
Luckily, there is software to repair corrupted STL files to ensure an optimal 3D printing process. Some tools are available for download, others are available online, open source or not. No matter what level you are, you will always find the right shoe for you. Among the best known are NetFabb or MakePrintable.
You can find our selection of repair software for 3D printing HERE.
Tools to manage the printing process
If you need to run multiple 3D prints at the same time in different locations or your company has a large machine park, 3D printer management solutions are available to simplify the workflow. This usually includes remote monitoring, multi-user management, optimized filling of production containers or improved machine control to increase user-friendliness and automate production steps.
Some of the currently available programs are Octoprint, Astroprint or PrintRun. 3D Printer OS, for example, connects different 3D printers in a network to coordinate all your printing and increase your productivity. Software manufacturers such as Dassault Systèmes, Siemens and 3YOURMIND have also established themselves in the niche for manufacturers.
As you’ve surely seen, there are many different tools when it comes to 3D software. However, we also want to draw your attention to other types of solutions: