3D printing is supposed to help smooth the path from designer's mind to prototype. It does, when compared to processes involving clay sculptures and other handcrafted models. Still now, there are many steps involved -- including some that Stratasys hopes to wring out of the process with the release of GrabCAD Print.
In a phone interview, Paul Giaconia, vice president of software products for Stratasys, said that there are still many limitations in additive manufacturing -- the industry's term for processes such as 3D printing. "Printers need to be more connected." He added that the connections he's talking about apply to cloud rendering and the design process itself.
GrabCAD, owned by Stratasys since 2014, is a cloud-based hub allowing collaboration around CAD files through GrabCAD Workbench. Functioning in ways that are broadly similar to GitHub for software developers, Workbench allows designers and engineers to check CAD documents in and out, see version histories, and share files with colleagues. GrabCAD Print takes the same idea of a processing and sharing hub that can deal with many different file formats, and applies it to the 3D printing process.
"There's a quality gap built into the design-to-printing process," Giaconia said, explaining that quality and time are lost at the interfaces between hardware and software, or between two pieces of software that must be employed in the prototype-creation process. "There are too many tools between the concept author and the printed part," he said. The idea behind GrabCAD Print is that there should be one step between creating the CAD file and seeing the finished 3D-printed prototyped.
GrabCAD Print allows a file in any of a number of popular CAD formats including PTC Creo, Dassault Systèmes' SOLIDWORKS, CATIA, and Autodesk Inventor to be uploaded to the GrabCAD Print cloud. From there, it is sent directly to a Stratasys 3D printer available to the designer. Intermediate rendering, slicing, and management steps are all performed within GrabCAD Print and away from the view and interaction of the designer.
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One of the keys to the GrabCAD Print approach is that it makes print management via a Web browser interface available to anyone with authorized access to the 3D print job. This means a print technician no longer has to be on-site to verify consumable levels or make sure that the print job is running successfully. That information is available through a GrabCAD Print Web interface on any device.
Giaconia gave an example of an engineer who can kick off a complex print job late in the afternoon and schedule it to run into the night. Rather than having to wait until the next morning, or to come into the office during the night, to see whether the print job is running properly, the engineer can check the status on a tablet or smartphone from home.
GrabCAD Print supports Stratasys uPrint SE, uPrint SE Plus, Fortus 250mc, Dimension Elite, and Dimension 1200es printers. Support for more models is coming later in the year, according to the company. The service is in public beta now and will remain so into fourth quarter 2017. GrabCAD Print is available at no cost to Stratsys 3D printer customers.