3D Printing in the Enterprise

By Pete Falco, Engineering Lead, Photoshop Adobe

Pete Falco, Engineering Lead, Photoshop Adobe

Today, 3D printing offers a more compelling method to conveying ideas through producing three dimensional, tangible objects. Virtually anything that can be designed as a three dimensional object on a computer can be brought to life using 3D printing. Seeing and experiencing an object in 3D dimensions is much more visceral and has a number of practical uses for nearly any business.

"The primary benefits of 3D printing, especially in the enterprise, is shortening the time from conception to acceptance for a new product or design, and minimizing costs"

3D Printing

3D printing, also known as “additive manufacturing,” is the process of creating a virtual object in software and then printing it as a three dimensional object. The object typically starts as a design created through 3D modeling software, such as Cinema 4D or a CAD program. Once the object is completed in software, the designer can use Adobe Photoshop CC to check the model for structural flaws and confirm printability, prepare for printing and send the object to a 3D printer or printing service, such as Shapeways.

Making of Objects

Nearly any object can be recreated using 3D printing – manufacturing parts, consumer products, characters used in movies and games, toys, packaging and more. Skilled 3D modelers and engineers can make any of these objects from scratch in their 3D design or CAD program. However, there are also stock template websites, such as Turbosquid or object libraries offered by Cinema 4D that provide 3D templates that can be refined and customized.

A new and exciting area of 3D object creation is 3D scanning. 3D scanners capturean object in three dimensions, capturing data on height, width and depth. 3D scanners shorten the time necessary to recreate an object and make it easier for users to create 3D objects without them having to learn how to use complicated modeling or CAD software. It is expected that 3D scanning technology will eventually become pervasive. For example, Intel’s RealSense3D Camera, which offers 3D scanning capabilities, will ship in many laptop computers and tablets in the coming months.

Another solution lowering the barrier to entry for 3D design is Adobe Photoshop CC. Photoshop CC allows mainstream creatives versed in Photoshop (but not necessarily more complex 3D programs) to work with 3D models and add finishing touches without using additional software. For example, a character animator can open a 3D character model in Photoshop and modify colors and textures. A footwear designer can visualize fabrics as applied to specific parts of a shoe model. This efficiency eliminates the learning curve and costs typically associated with integrating new technology.

3D Printing Process

3D printing works the same way as sending a document to a regular printer. When ready to print, users select a 3D printer or printing service compatible with their software and object, and hit “Print.

However, a strong technical understanding of how a model is constructed is often required. Design and structural flaws, such as a wall that’s too thin or extended parts that need support during print, can cause an object to collapse during the printing process. The modeler needs to be able to recognize these aspects of their model and correct accordingly.

Photoshop simplifies the print process with a WYSIWYG, “single-click” approach that makes 3D printing more accessible to mainstream creatives. Photoshop automatically corrects design flaws - thickening walls or adding supports to buttress a figurine arm - to eliminate printing failures and prepares the model to the specifications of the target printer. These auto-correction and model preparation features make it easy for nearly any Photoshop user to print objects in 3D.

Importance of 3D Printing

Large manufactures have long used CAD software and Computer Numerical Control (CNC) machines, an expensive and complicated process. Smaller manufactures, toy designers and character animators didn’t have the luxury of CNC machines. They had to rely on 2D designs or 3D mockups made by expensive specialists. Even worse, multiple iterations were required before a final design or model could be selected, incurring lengthy delays and prohibitive costs.

The primary benefits of 3D printing, especially in the enterprise, is shortening the time from conception to acceptance for a new product or design, and minimizing costs.

Impact of 3D Printing

There are various examples of where 3D printing has had an impact-

• Automobile interior designers can more quickly iterate over dashboard interactive elements by printing them in 3D versus using CNC. This allows design teams more quickly complete designs with higher user satisfaction.
• Character creators for animated film and television are able to see a character design in three dimensions before deciding on its final form. This allows storytellers to collaborate on a character’s final form much more quickly. Consumer products packaging creators can more quickly visualize packaging designs by providing a 3D model of a proposed package design to a visual artist who can apply color variations in Photoshop and quickly print for a tangible review.

Future of 3D Printing

A few trends appear to be shaping the near term roadmap of 3D printing-

• 3D printer manufacturers will create printers that are larger, faster and more accurate rendering better prints in less time and at a lower cost.
• Product designers and manufacturers will look at 3D printing to offer customized products. Since 3D prints start in software as a virtual model, nearly any type of customization can be applied, such as customer names or even their 3D likeness.
• Existing 2D processes will be converted to 3D in various enterprises in an attempt to shorten review times and improve product creation.
• Software and services will continue to make it easier to make, review and print in 3D.
• As more color-enabled 3D printing processes emerge, the ability to comprehend what a finished product may look like will be dramatically enhanced.

For the CIO

If you’re getting requests for 3D software, printers and scanners, hopefully it’s clear how these tools will improve proficiencies, reduce costs and expedite the approval process. Your creation teams and bottom line will both greatly benefit from the added speed and agility in the creation and design processes.