Adding Texture in CAD for 3D Printing

For the longest time, it felt like the terms “SOLIDWORKS” and “3D printing” were rarely discussed in any particularly paired light. Sure, we conceptually understood that SOLIDWORKS was a mechanical design tool used to make 3D designs. We conceptually understood that a 3D model was needed to 3D print a design.

It just felt like there should be more integration (and more awareness of pre-existing integration) between one of the most important 3D CAD tools on the market and emerging manufacturing techniques.

A couple of years ago, I aimed to educate SOLIDWORKS customers and prospects on pre-existing integration with 3D printing technology by creating a custom infographic. This infographic laid out, in chronological fashion, all enhancements witnessed in each SOLIDWORKS release in regard to 3D printing.

This infographic, created during the SOLIDWORKS 2017 release cycle, can be found here. But as 3D printing passes through its own adoption curve in production settings, I recall feeling there could be so much more integration of 3D printing in SOLIDWORKS. I felt this even as I was making an infographic cataloging a fair amount of integration over the years.

A screenshot from my video below, in which I discuss how to add 3D texture to an object in SOLIDWORKS.

In SOLIDWORKS 2019, one of my favorite design enhancements is actually one that befits 3D printing applications more than any other. The “2019 What’s New” documentation labels this enhancement: Transforming Textural Appearances with the 3D Texture Tool.

Try saying that 10 times fast.

So, what does this mean, exactly? It means, in short, that designers of any skill level can now easily apply patterned physical textures that used to be difficult to create, both for SOLIDWORKS and the person using it.

Take the knurl, for instance. At my first engineering job out of college, I remember an email chain going around prompting members of our CAD design team to create a knurled pattern in SOLIDWORKS in the fewest possible steps.

There were two inherent challenges. 1) Knurls are fairly complex to model — especially if your aim is to model them accurately across curved surfaces, and 2) Because of their faceted nature, a patterned knurl feature across a curved surface would typically take SOLIDWORKS a longer-than-usual time to present the geometry during feature rebuilds.

Many of us took our best shots at the task. People like myself, Toby Schnaars (Model Mania champion), Neil Sardinas (20+ years of SOLIDWORKS experience), and Brad Snow (CAD/FEA expert, former Analysis Services Manager at our company) deeply contemplated the modeling challenge and gave our best takes on a solution.

Sure, it was fun to pick each other’s brains. A great learning experience for me, no doubt. But, ideally, do you think creating such a pattern should require multiple tries from various CAD design experts? Maybe not.

In the video below, I’ll show how you can take grayscale heightmap images (don’t worry – I’ll explain what these are!) and use them to create a 3D texture in SOLIDWORKS 2019. This makes the situation I just described a whole lot easier!

If you have any questions on the functionality after watching this video, please give me a shout on Twitter (@ServicePackSean)! I’d be glad to discuss.

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