Rapid-prototyping can be intimidating for someone new to the process, but have no worries! Here at the UM3D Lab, we’ve answered the questions we get most often about rapid prototyping (3D printing) to create a handy list of Frequently Asked Questions.
Frequently Asked Questions
All the 3D lab needs to print is a stereolithography file with the extension .stl. Most CAD modeling softwares (Rhino, Solidworks, Maya, 3D Studio Max, etc.) can export a CAD model as a STL. (Simply save as, or export to an STL file, depending on your software.)
An STL file separates 3D models into printable layers. Your STL file is the key thing we need to print– from there we put it through the fixing and setup software the printer needs for it to be successfully built. The software(s) needed to create an STL file are available to use in the Digital Media Commons- the UM3D Lab computer lab and Groundworks.
1. Across the hall from the UM3D Lab is Groundworks, another affiliate of the library and the Digital Media Commons. In Groundworks they have software like Rhino and Solidworks which can be used to create 3D models for printing. If you don’t know how to use the software, no worries: they have a patient, knowledgeable staff, and Lynda.com accounts with step-by-step tutorials on how to create the model you’ve been dreaming of.
2. Some websites offer free files ready for 3D Printing. If you’re looking for printable jewelry, figurines, household goods, and other cool stuff, check out the selection at Thingiverse.com.
3. If you have an object you’d like to replicate, the UM3D Lab has a 3D scanner! It can scan objects of nearly any size (with details larger than 0.2mm) and create an STL file ready for printing. (Price begins at $15 dollars per hour.) This service has been used to scan medical equipment, motorcycle frames, hundred-year-old sculptures, architectural models, rocks, dinosaur footprints, and people’s bodies. If you bring it to us, chances are we can scan it.
Deciding which printer to use depends on the final outcome of your part. If you need something with large overhangs, or that needs to be very durable, printing out of plastic is the best choice. Mechanical parts, parts with threads, interlocking parts all print best out of plastic. The print area for the Dimension printer is 8” x 8”. It’s resolution per layer is 0.254 mm (0.010 in.).
If you need something with smaller details or just a smaller piece, the ProJet can provide the best finished part. The resolution per layer is 0.016 mm (0.0006 in.). Also the material used is a bio compatible plastic, which is handy for medical applications. It also works well for investment casting.
For lower-quality, but faster iterations, consider using the Cube 3D printer through the 3D Lab’s Open-Services 3D Printing.
The UM3D Lab staff checks all submitted parts for errors before we send them to print. While we are happy to correct small flaws– often as a result as the software and not the user– we cannot fix parts with large structural problems. Fixing a part with major errors often drastically changes the part, and we don’t want to alter someone’s vision for their part by filling in large holes or assuming it should look a certain way.
Even if your part has no obvious holes or bad edges and looks good to print, it still may have issues for the 3D printers. Sometimes the surfaces of objects may overlap, even in very tiny places– this confuses the printer and can result in bad prints or damage to the printers. These tiny overlaps are fixed by the UM3D Lab staff using Magics, a special software designed to prepare 3D models for rapid-prototyping.
If the parts look good to print, you will receive an e-mail. This e-mail will verify what and how many parts you are printing, out of what material, and how much it will cost. You will be asked if you want to proceed with the print. The UM3D Lab will never print a part without direct approval and direction to do so from our clients.
However, during busy times of the year (towards the end of each semester) lots of people want to print, and the print queue becomes long. Because parts are processed in the order they are received, a rush in parts to be printed can result in a push back of production times. For this reason, prior planning is important, especially if you have a deadline you will need your part by.
Depending on the size and complexity of the part, the build time can range– from a few hours to a few days. (While rapid prototyping is rapid, it is not instant.) The printers run during the day, as well as overnight and on weekends– we are excited about rapid prototyping and want to get you your part ASAP! Remember: parts with support material also need to soak in a tank to remove the material– which can take as a long as a day depending on the amount of support material that needs to dissolve.
Outside clients (not related to the university) can use the 3D Lab’s rapid prototyping services at double the cost of campus clients. This rule is in place to protect our local small businesses. If you are not a student or staff member, it is in your best interest to check out some of the other 3D printing services available in Ann Arbor.
Similarly, ProJet parts can also be sanded, painted, and drilled but be sure to use a mask since the parts can release a acrylic dust that is harmful when inhaled.
If you are paying by shortcode, you must have your shortcode written on your invoice and signed by the finance office of your department. E-mail email@example.com for questions regarding shortcode payment.
If you have already approved the print, contact Shawn O’Grady at firstname.lastname@example.org. We understand that last-minute iterative changes sometimes happen. The UM3D lab runs on a cost-recovery system, so if your part is printing, or has already printed, you will only be charged for the material used. If you then submit additional parts to be printed, you will only be charged one set-up fee for the job.
To get started with Open-Access 3D printing, visit the UM3DLab website and click the Walk-up 3D printing button on the home page. Below are step-by step instructions, including a link to the Cube how-to videos, an informative (and even a little funny) series of videos that cover everything you need to know about using the Cube 3D printer.
After you’ve watched the videos and feel familiar with the printer, take the knowledge test. After you’ve taken the test, a consultant will e-mail you back to let you know if you have passed. If you have, you will be added to the Event Management System (EMS), and can begin scheduling a time to use the Cube! Remember– you need to order your own materials, which can be done online through Cubify or Staples. Please note: ABS plastic clogs the Cube Printers: for this reason, only PLA plastic is allowed when using Open-Source 3D Printing.
From there you can begin using the Cube 3D printers. Remember to clean up your area and return your key when you are finished.