3 tips for getting started with design for additive manufacturing

Getting started with design for additive manufacturing

Do you want to begin designing parts that will be 3D printed? If you’re just getting started with design for additive manufacturing (DfAM), and you’ve never designed a part before or have only designed parts for traditional manufacturing processes, these 3 tips will be helpful for your new journey with design for additive manufacturing.

1. No need to spend lots of money when starting out in DfAM

Additive manufacturing (AM) can be an expensive manufacturing process, especially when making metal parts. However, it doesn’t need to cost a fortune when getting started with design for additive manufacturing and to print your first part successfully. For our first tip, which is to begin on a small budget, we’ve broken down some ways to achieve this.

Avoid expensive CAD tools at the beginning

There are many great design tools out there that can help speed up your additive manufacturing (AM) design process. They can also allow you to exploit the freedom of geometry that AM can offer. However, you don’t need to purchase expensive specialist AM software upfront because as a newcomer you can create AM designs using conventional low-cost CAD tools.

We also advise you to sign up for the free trials that most DfAM software companies offer. Making the most of free trials can be a great way to improve your design skills without having to spend a lot of money. Many companies also offer start-up rates that are heavily discounted so it’s always worth contacting them to ask about this.

Also, if you have an interest in programming, you can find an open-source DfAM project and contribute to its development.

Hollow Lattice in Sulis by Gen3D
Hollow lattice designed with Sulis by Gen3D. You can download a free two-week trial of our software via: https://gen3d.com/download/

Complete an online course that covers the basics of DfAM

If you want to learn how to design, you can find many credible resources that provide an overview of design for additive manufacturing. Of course, we’re biased but, we believe that understanding the basic principles of design for additive manufacturing is key to designing cost-effective parts. That’s why we have created a free interactive online course that contains four key principles that cover all you need to know to begin designing parts for additive manufacturing.

Course Curriculum - Design for Additive Manufacturing
Gen3D’s design for additive manufacturing course covers the basics of DfAM in four easy to follow principles of design for additive manufacturing.

Find low-cost ways to get your parts manufactured

Getting from CAD to your first final printed part can be costly if you don’t own a desktop 3D printer, however, there are opportunities to get parts made inexpensively.

  • Find out if there are any makerspaces in your local area. Makerspaces are great places to meet like-minded people who are interested in making things and often they have machines that are available for members.
  • Get parts printed at a 3D printing hub. These hubs match people looking to print parts with companies that have access to 3D printers. This is a cost-effective way to print parts especially if you are investigating various manufacturing processes on different machines.
  • If you’ve gone past the beginner’s stage, you could purchase a desktop printer. The cost of consumer 3D printers have reduced dramatically in the past few years, and desktop FDM printers can be bought for a few hundred pounds.

2. Find designs you like and analyse why you like them

As the phrase goes, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. When you’re starting out in additive manufacturing it can be a good idea to find parts that initially make you think, “Wow!”. Pinterest can be a great way of creating a board for your favourite AM designs. Following AM companies and designers on Instagram can be another way of keeping track of inspiring designs. Alternatively, if you have an AM trade show near you, then you can take a look at the parts on display in person. Many exhibitors will allow you to take photos of the parts (ask first) and you can add these to your inspiration board on Pinterest or similar.

9 renders of components designed for AM
Example of an inspirational board for AM designs

Once you’ve got a set of inspirational designs, investigate further to see how they’ve used AM to improve the function of the part. This could be an interesting support structure method, or making use of novel optimisation methods for instance.

After establishing how the designer has created that particular feature, try recreating it. You may find a tutorial video showing a similar design so it’s worth searching for one before you start. The process of trying to recreate a design is great practice and can often lead to the creation of novel designs in the process. Don’t forget to credit your inspiration if you decide to post any of your work. There is a fine line between inspiration and copyright theft!

3. Just start… find a project you’re interested in and design an AM component

Often the hardest part of beginning a design project is taking the initial step to begin. Maybe this is down to fear of failure or perhaps you have so many ideas that don’t know where to begin. The best thing you can do is simply begin. Here are a few tips on making that simpler.

Choose an interesting industry/application

There are many industries that utilise additive manufacturing, including the medical industry, space, sporting goods, jewellery and fashion. Being passionate about the design work you’re doing will improve the chances that you will finish the project.

Wyve Surf’s first 3D-printed model, the HEXA Surfboard. Inspired by the structural properties of the honeycomb, the HEXA Surfboard is light and strong. Image courtesy of Wyve.

Furthermore, creating work in a field that you’re interested in increases the chances of finding a community of like-minded people who will be interested and engaged in your work.

Set yourself a time limit

The fear of starting a new project can be daunting, and one way to start the creative process is to set a time limit. Set yourself 30 minutes or 1 hour to get as far along as you can. And then stop. The resulting design might not be perfect, but it has given you a chance to practice a particular skill. Once you’ve started creating you will most likely want to come back to it and so the project is underway.

Show and tell

The best way to improve as a designer is to show your work. This has several advantages:

  • It allows you to get feedback about your work from the community. Getting feedback from people you trust and respect is a great way to improve your design skills.
  • It teaches what you’ve learnt. Once you’ve started developing your skills, tell others about your creative process. This way everyone benefits from your work and the community as a whole develops. Gen3D supported this idea by running an AM design contest. You can see the winners of this contest by signing up for our additive manufacturing course or there’s a preview in the video below.

If you need more convincing that showing your work is a great idea then check out this great book by Austin Kleon.

Gen3D offer a FREE design for additive manufacturing course which provides a thorough overview of design for additive manufacturing (DfAM) fundamentals. The online course consists of 5 parts that cover the core design principles anyone getting into AM should know. The course can be taken online at your own pace. You will receive a course completion certificate once all 5 lessons are completed.