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Taking to market 3D printer-ready CAD files

Posted: 05 Jan 2015 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Materialise? CAD? 3D printing?

The 3D printing industry could learn a thing or two from what the entertainment and media industry has done to restrain the illegal download of MP3 music files and movies. Music and film lovers can enjoy and access the services offered by legitimate digital stores or subscription services such as iTunes, Deezer or Spotify. On these platforms, users can get the original files they want, discreetly, without jeopardising quality nor taking any legal risk.

Developing such legal platforms for the delivery of printer-ready 3D CAD files, with the participation of original manufacturers is the way forward for the 3D printing industry and probably the best counter-measure against unlawful design imitations or erroneous unprintable files, according to Stefaan Motte, director of the 3D printing software segment at Materialise N.V.

Customisation: Driving force behind 3D printing

In an interview with EETimes Europe, Motte confirmed the trend for mass-personalisation across a number of industries. He sees more and more customers take 3D printing as an opportunity to offer easy customisation, mostly on casings even if the overall product design isn't affected.

Secure 3D CAD exchange isn't anything new across professionals, but giving access to a whole new catalogue of original CAD files for consumers to buy and print is something entirely new that most OEMs should consider.

Not long ago, one of my colleagues had to fix a bumper link on his car. Because the replacement part didn't even exist on the aftermarket, he had to 3D scan it and print it himself before he could go to the garage for a repair. If the part had been available on the original manufacturer's site as a 3D CAD file, even for a small charge, it would have saved him time and effort.

Arguably, working at Materialise, Motte's colleague was well acquainted with 3D printing CAD software and the technologies at hand. The company has over 100 3D printers spread across different sites (one at its headquarters in Leuven, Belgium), capable of processing 17 different types of materials, ranging from polymers to metals and ceramics. But not everyone would be so confident with such a DIY 3D printed repair job.

If you look at services such as iTunes or Spotify, users are ready to pay a reasonable amount if the service is easy to use and offers some quality assurance compared to illegal downloads. This would be even truer for 3D CAD files, Motte stated.

Especially if you 3D print functional objects, there is a material cost associated to it and you don't want to launch a printing session (even at home) only to find out that the part isn't adequate, or isn't well prepared for 3D printing.

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