In Praise of CAD Skills

Created with CAD skill that should be praised.My fellow application engineers and I often get asked for favors in the form of FDM parts. This could be anything from a special jig or fixture for assembling or holding a sample, to a new handout or marketing sample, to a custom name plate or business card holder for a particular individual.

These tasks take creativity, a thorough understanding of FDM technology, and a way to get an STL file. Recently, the “usuals” who normally do these tasks were unavailable, so I stepped in. Initially I was excited — I’m relatively creative and I have an in-depth understanding of our machines and of FDM Technology, so I thought I was more than half way there.

But when it came time to open the 3D CAD software, I paused for several moments. It had been a while since I’d last worked in CAD. So here I was, ideas in my head, sketches on a notepad, a visualization of exactly how I was going to build my FDM part (material, layer thickness, orientation), all of which meant nothing unless I could generate an STL file. With some learning on the fly and the help of a few co-workers, I was finally able to produce a file that I could use to build my fixture. A few modifications later and it was working as I had imagined.

But it was ugly. It didn’t look anything like I had initially imagined. I’d taken a utilitarian approach, and form took a back seat to function. I realize this was not a limitation of the FDM Technology or my creativity. It was really my limited knowledge of the 3D CAD software to be able to use the tools available to recreate my vision.

I have to commend the engineers and designers out there who can design functional items and do so while making it look appealing to the eyes. I’m just happy that my fixture performed as I had hoped, and equally as glad that it will be out of sight to most. 

To effectively use additive manufacturing, one needs an idea, an effective way to create an STL, and knowledge of 3D printing technology. If you do not have all three of these, then an idea will remain in your head instead of becoming an object in your hands.

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