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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?

Here consumers will have a much higher motivation to pay for services that will guarantee them a good 3D print output, or that they get the right files compatible with their home printer, he added.

Motte sees quality assurance as a strong argument for original manufacturers to offer CAD files for lease or for print through accredited additive manufacturing services. Such services can ensure OEMs that their customers get the replacement parts or the custom parts built with exactly the same characteristics and the same qualified materials as the original parts, something they could endorse as an after-sales service.

Among other things, Materialise offers 3D design and engineering services, scanning or preparing CAD files for printing, in some cases fixing submitted designs. In the future, Motte expects more and more portals to offer such services.

So far the only CAD files you can find are mostly self-serving, in the sense that most 3D printer manufacturers or 3D printing houses put forward on their portals a number of verified 3D objects, ready-to-print, knowing that every materialisation is a win, either through paid-for printing services, or through consumables.

MakerBot does that through its digital-store and extends that with printing services for a gallery of designs from third party contributors under its thingiverse community. The company even launched several apps to help consumers design and print stuff in 3D.

3D printer-ready CAD files

Developing legal platforms for the delivery of printer-ready 3D CAD files is seen as the way forward for the 3D printing industry and probably the best counter-measure against unlawful design imitations.

Materialise does that through its upmarket MGX design division, named after the .MGX file extension of the company's 3D-printable data preparation software package, Magics.

But traditional manufacturers and brands should be next, offering product customisation through consumer-friendly apps and replacement parts as 3D print-ready CAD files tied to a number of recommended materials or specific printing houses.

Just for the sake of branding, it would hardly cost anything for a company to give away their 3D CAD logos as downloadable, customisable key-rings and miniature items for their fans to print, very much like todays desktop wallpapers.

3D printing to aid in manufacturing re-localisation

Bringing up a full-fledged catalogue of replacement parts is another matter, but for some industries, the whole logistic for replacement parts or for assembly is a nightmare, and integrating 3D printing to the volume manufacturing chain could drastically change inventory and stock management. For those who don't offer such parts for the aftermarket, it simply opens up new business opportunities.

For some, 3D printing can help them re-localise their manufacture, nearer the original design centres, especially during the prototyping phase when shipping delays can have a big impact on the design process.

In some cases, more particularly in the medical industry, even a day's worth of shipping delay will make the difference between a viable business and a non-viable business. This is where the concept of re-localisation through 3D printing makes the most sense, said Motte, commenting on Materialises presence in the US specifically to service more closely the medical market.

Depending on each industry, there will be an economical judgement to be made, for re-localisation or for off-shoring 3D printing farms but direct consumer access to original CAD files seems to be the way forward.

- Julien Happich
??EE Times Europe

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