Wait – Before you press print

By Dr Juan Schutte, R&D engineer at UoA’s Creative Design and Additive Manufacturing Lab

3D printing (3DP) has achieved phenomenal success and grown to be a highly prominent tool for innovation and product manufacturing with it currently estimated to be an industry worth NZ$17.7 billion. It is no surprise that most of New Zealand’s major industries have already leveraged it in some way, be it in developing jigs and fixtures, prototyping, or even using the technology to manufacture final products. We even have some impressive printing specific manufacturing bureaus across the country like RAM3D in Tauranga, Zenith Tecnica in Auckland and Fi Innovation in Invercargill to name a few.

The ability to seemingly create anything one can imagine is addictive and it can be easily confused as some miraculous manufacturing panacea. This misrepresentation has resulted in a lot of despair as, much like with any tool, if used incorrectly, it can yield disastrous (and expensive!) outcomes.

While it is tempting to rely on a 3D printer to be an automaton work horse and handle all the heavy lifting of prototyping/manufacturing, this can very quickly become a detrimental crutch.

To truly benefit from this technology, we must consider the nuances of designing for it. Examples of which include removing as much simple geometry (flat/2D profiles) as possible and adding as much complexity as is feasible (aesthetics/texturing, part consolidation).

Prints created in the Creative Design and Additive Manufacturing Lab

Thankfully, recent developments in CAD have helped to automate some of these tasks. Removing unnecessary material using topology optimisation, or generative design techniques, can automatically create parts that only have the geometries needed. Additionally, more complex geometries can be easily achieved through software such as nTopology which can efficiently create complex lattice-based structures and map textures or features onto irregular parts.

Fundamentally though, before you can design for 3DP you must consider the intricacies and opportunities of the various 3D printer types (resolution, support material). New Zealander’s have proven adept at both leveraging these opportunities and pushing the boundaries of 3DP’s potential. With cutting edge research in novel materials, sustainability, future foods, tissue engineering and new ways to create better products, the future of 3DP in Aotearoa is one worth watching.

Dr. Juan Schutte works at the University of Auckland’s Creative Design and Additive Manufacturing Lab as an R&D Engineer consulting with industry and academia on the opportunities of 3D printing.

The information and opinions within this column are not necessarily the views or opinions of Xpress Engineer NZ, NZ Engineering News or the parent company, Hayley Media.