by Darren Chilton, Program Manager, Product Strategy and Development, solidThinking
Designers seeking a solution for creating products for additive manufacturing, look no further than hybrid modelers. Without the constraints of traditional CAD tools, these programs help you explore product designs and create alternatives all in one place.
Computer Aided Design (CAD) software first came onto the scene in the later part of last century to help engineers, designers and other industrial users create accurate, dynamic models quickly. Several programs over the years have done just that: revolutionized the design process, cut turnaround times and enabled more complex product designs. As the industry continues to develop, however, many designers are finding that CAD solutions are too rigid and do not allow enough creative freedom when designing products.
CAD is a great tool for documenting a design after a designer has worked out all the dimensions and details on paper or with physical 3D models. But when it comes to allowing designers the freedom to create new products and experiment with design alternatives, CAD often misses the mark.
A new player is rising in the 3D modeling industry: hybrid modelers. Hybrid modelers pack the power of CAD into a package that is intuitive and includes tools that leave room for greater creativity.
CAD programs typically rely on solid modeling, a technique well suited for creating parts to be mass manufactured, but not known for its flexibility. When creating more fluid or organic forms, designers usually prefer polygonal modeling or surface modeling. Each of the three major modeling styles offers advantages and disadvantages. For instance, polygonal modeling makes it easy to quickly flesh out forms, but can be difficult to control the model with exact dimensions. The goal of a hybrid modeler is to blend two or more of the modeling styles into one program that leverages the advantages of each.
The challenge in creating any hybrid modeler is making the different modeling styles play nicely with each other. Most hybrid modelers start as a successful program using one of the modeling styles. When an additional modeling style is packaged with the program, often as a third part plug-in, it may feel disjointed and may not work well with the initial set of tools.
One new program that overcomes this objection is solidThinking’s Evolve. This program was conceptualized as an all-in-one hybrid modeler from the beginning. The program was built to highlight the strengths of each of the three major modeling styles in a cohesive approach. The result is an interface that allows users to seamlessly move between modeling styles.
The core value of a hybrid modeler is the flexibility it gives you. The ability to use multiple modeling styles in one model lets you create the intended forms while still being able to apply precise details with tools like rounds and trims. You also have the flexibility to start a model using one technique then prepare it for manufacture using a different technique.
Above is an example of a bicycle helmet that was designed using polygonal modeling. The designer was able to quickly create the form and design of the helmet, but was left with a model that wasn’t usable for manufacturing. Using Evolve’s Nurbify option, the designer was able to convert the model into a smooth NURBS surface with a single click. The geometry can either be further refined, or sent directly to manufacturing.
Technologies like Nurbify can change the way you approach product design. Instead of creating a mountain of sketches to work out every aspect of a design, you can move into 3D earlier. You can make more accurate decisions earlier in the design process, as well as explore multiple design iterations. Some of the best designs end up being happy accidents that are developed while you experiment with different forms and ideas.
One example is a design for a pen. The designer in this instance fleshed out some basic forms of the pen, then worked through various iterations until a final design was achieved. With Evolve’s flexible set of tools specifically developed for this type of workflow, the designer created these designs in minutes compared to the hours it may have taken in a traditional CAD program.
Creating a one stop shop
In the 3D modeling industry there are several programs that specialize in various parts of the concept creation, modeling, visualization, or manufacturing process. The wide set of options gives you plenty of choices, but often means the model has to be moved between several costly programs along the way.
In addition to creating ease of use between the major 3D modeling styles, hybrid modelers include more complete toolsets to ensure designers work as efficiently as possible. Evolve 2015 includes a completely updated rendering engine that emphasizes ease of use and creates visually stunning renderings.
In this instance, the designer created a design using Evolve, then rendered it using native tools. Thus, Evolve, enables you to keep most — if not all — of your project in one program throughout the process. By packaging multiple functions into one software solution, hybrid modelers are more attractive to emerging manufacturing technologies.
Disrupting traditional manufacturing
One of the most notable emerging technologies today is additive manufacturing. Though the technology has been around for decades, new technologies and tools are making it more accessible than ever. With these manufacturing options, the industry is seeing products with more complex and sophisticated geometry.
Additive manufacturing enables a complete shift in how you are able to design products. 3D printers can make forms that are not possible using traditional methods. Beyond being able to make low volume parts faster, you are able to make parts lighter without sacrificing structural integrity.
Take the part above, the image on the left is the original part prepared for traditional manufacturing. At 6.2 lb, there is room for weight reduction, but traditional manufacturing methods are not able to handle the complexity of the more efficient structures. In this case, the designer optimized the part in solidThinking Inspire by applying the required loads and constraints, which then removed all the non-essential material. The optimized part was then prepared for manufacturing using Evolve. The result, shown on the right, is an organic structure that reduced the part mass by 35% and brought the final weight below 4 lb. The complex structure is not suited for traditional manufacturing, but is easily handled by a 3D printer.
Similar to traditional manufacturing methods, traditional CAD programs have difficulty handling complex organic structures. To create these structures, designers rely on hybrid modelers and their ability to create organic geometry.
Hybrid modelers and additive manufacturing
Additive manufacturing is making it easier than ever to create new products and prototypes. Similarly, hybrid modelers make it easier to conceptualize the products and prepare them for manufacturing. For this reason, many designers consider hybrid modelers a great solution for additive manufacturing.
With Evolve software, the designer can quickly and easily create variations of a design, as shown here with unique mugs. In the world of additive manufacturing, the designer isn’t locked into manufacturing a certain number of products to save costs. This allows greater design flexibility and the opportunity to make changes even after manufacturing has begun.
Using a traditional CAD program, a designer would have to create each one of these iterations separately; this is where hybrid modelers provide a significant advantage. Once the base mug is designed, the designer can create and experiment with several designs in just minutes. The iterations of these designs were powered by a unique construction history feature. While working in the hybrid environment, a designer can make changes to the original design and the entire model updates responsively.
“Evolve’s Construction Tree history lets you seamlessly go back and edit your models without having to start the process over; this is key to help expedite the timeline,” said Jared Boyd, product design manager at Dimensions Furniture.
In addition to making it easier to iterate and create designs, hybrid modelers make it easier to communicate with various members of the manufacturing process with options to export the model in most major 3D formats or create photorealistic images and animations.
CAD programs can be beneficial in certain areas of product development, but with the introduction of hybrid modelers, designers are free from the constraints of traditional CAD programs and can create innovative products faster and easier. Not only do these programs lead to greater efficiency, they also ease communications between designers and vendors while leaving plenty of room for creativity.
The future relationship between additive manufacturing and hybrid modelers is exciting. Huge advances are already being made in industries with high cost, low volume products like aerospace, defense and medicine.