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Material considerations are also important, because 3D
printing now offers several distinct processes to choose from. For
instance, technologies such as selective laser sintering (SLS) and
Multi Jet Fusion (MJF) use commercial-grade nylons, direct metal
laser sintering (DMLS) produces parts in fully dense metal (that
is, if you’re considering metal rather than plastic), and PolyJet
can be used for early stage prototyping of flexible elastomeric
Naftali Eder, Application Engineer, Rapid Prototyping
Solutions Business, Stratasys Ltd
First, consider the part’s physical characteristics produced by
the 3D printing technology used, which can vary greatly in terms
of strength, detail and finish. PolyJet inkjet-based 3D printing,
for example, uses materials with high detail surface finish that
accurately represent all of the very fine details of your CNC or
injection molded parts, whereas FDM technology based upon
the fused layers of real plastic filament would better represent the
functionality of the end-use part. When designing parts requiring
high tolerance mating surfaces or aligning parts – PolyJet would
be ideal. When designing products that require load bearing or
high–temperature capability, then FDM is a stronger fit. Holes
should typically be designed undersized, while mating surfaces
should be designed oversized and then subsequently machined.
Just because you can 3D print it, doesn’t mean you can
manufacture it using traditional processes. 3D printing vendors
often make the mistake of showing off certain capabilities of
the printer that don’t translate into the real world of production.
Try to avoid geometries that are challenging for subtractive
manufacturing, such as blind holes, internal voids and undercuts.
Even if you can prototype as a single integrated part, for the sake
of fit and functional testing, break the part along the same seam-lines as the final product would be.
John Sidorowicz, VP, Sales and Customer Service,
Xcentric Mold & Engineering
When designing a part to be prototyped using additive
manufacturing (or 3D printing), it is important to understand
up front that some design features may need to be altered
for injection molding, or production. Building these design
considerations into design versions may help you reduce the
needs for re-design at each stage of the project. A few items for
1. Large parts outside the space limitations of your chosen
process can be broken up into smaller pieces and assembled
2. Avoiding sharp edges in your design can improve accuracy.
3. Geometric angles larger than 45 degrees will require support
in 3D printing, which could limit the complexity in your
4. Thick walls and hollowed interiors can reduce print time;
however, they are features that will need to be re-designed for
a process like injection molding.
Secondly, it’s important to remember each manufacturing
process has its own selection of materials that can be used. Even
similar materials may behave differently from process to process.
For instance, a part made from ABS plastic using an FDM method
will not be nearly as strong as one that was injection molded due
Greg Paulsen, Director of Applications Engineering at
I want to make sure we un-blur the edges between rapid
prototyping and direct digital manufacturing using additive
technologies (3D printing). Additive manufacturing is another set
of tools in the shop to build parts, and just like injection molding
has wall thickness considerations, or CNC machining dislikes
sharp internal corners, there are ways to design for additive that
can make the process a solid step in production. Designing for
an additive process and using it for end-results is direct digital
manufacturing and can give significant design flexibility versus
With 3D printing it is the printer, and not the print, that
dictates how your part will turn out. Tolerances are global and
the machine is reading off the 3D CAD you have provided.
As a general rule, I usually expect any powder bed fusion
processes like SLS or DMLS to run large by a few thousandths
of an inch. So, if your design has a critical edge that should be
+0.000, -0.010in., I would recommend the CAD be configured
to the minimum end, allowing for up to 0.010in. growth versus
designing to the nominal (or heaven forbid, the maximum
extent). I know that creating a special CAD configuration just for
3D printing on a rapid prototype sounds like unnecessary labor,
but it’s often the difference between your prototypes mating or
needing to manually rework.
An expanded article with the experts’ full responses is
available on PD&D’s website at: https://tinyurl.com/PDD-