Advancing Our Additive Manufacturing Program

As additive manufacturing becomes more important to our business, we realized that we must continually improve our capabilities and drive improvements in the manufacturing part of the operation.

The Design Department Perspective

When designing new products, one of the greatest assets an engineer can utilize in the design process is a 3D printer to produce prototype parts quickly at little cost. Traditionally, there are many steps to be taken to get from a model on your computer screen to a part in your hand. The designer must take their design, export and save the model to an appropriate file extension like .STL, import the configured file to the 3D printer’s software interface, setup, orient, and process the model, manually layout the printing tray if making multiple parts, and then finally print. One of the major drawbacks of this is that the designer usually needs to have physical access to a dedicated computer that interfaces directly with the printer. As engineers and designers, we are always looking for ways to streamline our processes. Exploring ways to reduce steps taken and improve productivity is a hallmark of efficiency. Now, we have a new way of handling our 3D printing process through Stratasys’ recently released ‘GrabCAD Print.’

At its core, GrabCAD Print is a cloud-based hub that brings accessibility to 3D printing from anywhere that a designer has access to the machine. For example, a designer working remotely on a new design ready for prototype can setup models across multiple trays, organize print queues, and monitor material levels and run times of the printer, all from their laptop, phone, or tablet! As a bonus, GrabCAD print allows for direct importing of your CAD model from just about any modeling software, eliminating the need to convert files. Once imported, GrabCAD Print automatically renders, slices, and prepares the models for printing. For instances where multiple models are to be printed, an optimize feature will automatically place and orient parts on the tray to most effectively use materials and time.

GrabCAD print goes beyond being a designers’ tool as it also reflects a business sense side in its offered features. Whether your company has one or multiple 3D printers, viewing who is printing what on which machine is easy and concise. Realtime performance can give you a heads up on when to order material, how to manage print queues, and focus on getting the most productivity out of your machines, no office presence required!

From Operations

With competing requirements for time on our 3D printers, managing utilization is very important.  The new GrabCAD program allows us to utilize each tray efficiently by using algorithms to best position each part to get the most production from each tray.  Multiple trays can then be put together to form high performance production runs.

A new video feature is included where we can monitor production on each machine.  The feed for the video is available all the time and on any smart device through the ne GCPrint app.  With video we can check in on production runs and ensure things are going smoothly during lights out operations at night or over weekends.

And finally, we have a cloud based utilization of each machine and now have data at the tips of our fingers to better manage our production schedule and planning moving forward.

Better Utilization is the Result

After hearing about GrabCAD Print’s features, our design and engineering team at NLS has begun utilizing it for all our printing needs and the results have been favorable. Reduced machine downtime from proper printing queues and performance reports means more prints are on schedule. Being able to import models directly has freed up resources to be allocated for other tasks. Even the quality of the prints seems to have improved! The refined design-to-print workflow has really made our 3D printing projects easy and accessible. Stratasys’ new GrabCAD print is certainly a step in the right direction.

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