Printing Full-Color FEA results on 3D printers

Tutorial by Shuvom Ghose

Ever wanted to see, feel, and handle your FEA results, in the best way to share them with colleagues and students?

This tutorial goes through the steps how to use SOLIDWORKS Simulation and GrabCAD Print to print full-color FEA results on polyjet color printers such as the J750.

It's a lot easier than you think!

  1. Step 1: Run your FEA analysis

    First, get a model to analyze, perhaps even from GrabCAD (this is the sample file I'll be using):

    Run your FEA analysis to determine stress or displacement or temperature, what ever you want to see, and now your screen should look like this:

    Typically you want a little more contrast in your printed models, so I'm going to adjust the results scale until the highest stress areas are bright red instead of green:

    I'm using SOLIDWORKS Simulation to do my FEA, the steps should be similar in any modern package.

    Next, we're going to do the most important step: exporting results in a way 3D printers can read them.

  2. Step 2: Export your results as VRML

    In SOLIDWORKS, one path to exporting FEA results is right clicking on the result graph and choosing the "Save As" option:

    The "Save As" choice brings up this screen, and make sure you choose VRML as your choice of format:

    VRML is a format that was originally used for Virtual Reality programs, but has recently also been used for sharing 3D files with full color and texture: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/VRML

    With your VRML ready, the next step is laying out our tray.

  3. Step 3: Laying out your tray in GrabCAD Print

    GrabCAD Print is a 3D printing preparation tool that can import STL files (which do not retain their color), native CAD files (which retain the block color assigned to them in their CAD system) and VRML (which usually retain full color and textures when imported).

    After importing our bracket VRML into GrabCAD Print and choosing J750 for our choice of printer, our tray looks like this:

    Note 1: The units of the VRML file may not match the default units in your GrabCAD Print install. My first bracket came in 1000 times too small until I changed the import units to meters.

    Note 2: If you have an FDM printer selected, or one that does not have a full color range, your preview will look different. Here is that same bracket on a uPrint tray:

    Note 3: In SOLIDWORKS, if you had your model in a "deformed state" during step 2, those deformations will also show up here in the VRML. For example, notice how the formerly flat bottom of my bracket is bent upwards, which I do NOT want to print (to fix this, I'd have to redo step 2 with deformations off):

    But, assuming you have a J750 selected as your printer, your VRML was exported in the non-deformed state, and your scale is correct, your bracket on the tray should now look like this after a little re-orientation:

    You can scale the model or make duplicates now if you wish, because the last step is to hit the print button in the lower right!

  4. Step 4: Print your model

    That GE bracket would take about 10-15 hrs for me to print, depending on the scale and print quality I used, so I kicked it off, came back the next morning, and after a little bit of cleaning off supports, I had my result:

    And that's how easy it is! If you have any questions about how to print YOUR own FEA results on 3D printers, feel free to email me at shuvom@grabcad.com!


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    Shuvom Ghose

    @Manolis Theofilos: I've actually printed out streamlines with 3D printing before, and getting those small tubes to not break off when you pull the model out of the printer is SUPER HARD. But if you wanted to just print a color-textured map of pressures or temperatures on a face or something, yes, that should be possible in much the same way. SOLIDWORKS lets you import Flow CFD results into FEA studies, and then you follow the same steps as above. If you want to learn more, email me and maybe we can get someone nearby to help you.

    October 3rd, 2017 14:17
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    Manolis Theofilos

    Great tutorial. Is there a way to do the same with CFD results, or even do a render of FEA/CFD results?

    October 2nd, 2017 23:20