Virtual Prototyping with SmartSlice™

Today’s blog post is an example of how SmartSlice™ is being used for virtual prototyping of 3D printed parts. Before continuing, it is important to define what virtual prototyping is. Straight from Wikipedia, virtual prototyping “involves using computer-aided design (CAD)” and “computer-aided engineering (CAE) software to validate a design before committing to making a physical prototype.”

SmartSlice™ is classified as CAE software and is designed specifically for the virtual prototyping of FFF parts. It validates the structural performance of parts and tells users how strong and how stiff these parts will be, taking into account the filament the part is printed from, the orientation of the part on the build plate of the printer, and the print settings used to print the part. As a user, you simply define a load case and SmartSlice™ manages the rest. It can even optimize print settings to automatically correct for under- or over-built parts.

Without simulation software, the only way to evaluate the performance of a given design is to print it and test it, which is called physical prototyping. The primary advantage of using virtual prototyping is that it allows users to explore many different designs and, importantly, do it in a fraction of the time required with physical prototyping.

And that brings us to the topic of this blog post, which is a straightforward comparison of using SmartSlice™ to optimize an FFF part compared to physical prototyping. The post demonstrates how to use SmartSlice™ for material and build orientation selection, and to optimize print settings.

Material comparison

There are many filaments being produced by a large array of material manufacturers and each material has different structural properties. For example, a carbon-fiber nylon filament is going to have significantly different properties than a non-fiber-filled filament like nylon or ABS. Figuring out the properties of a given filament is not straightforward. It is a matter of guessing, literature reviews or testing the material, which is expensive and takes a lot of time. SmartSlice™ includes a database of tested materials which means it can be used to quickly and painlessly explore how your part will perform when printed from a variety of filaments.

For this blog post, let’s consider the part shown below, which is a fixture used to support industrial equipment during assembly. The load case is shown and the requirements for the part are a minimum Factor of Safety of 4 and a maximum deflection of 1 mm.

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In this example, the user is interested in 2 materials: ABS and PETG. Which material is superior in terms of stiffness and strength? Using SmartSlice™, we can answer this question in less than 5 minutes by simply running 2 validations: 1 with ABS and the other with PETG, both using default 0.2mm print profiles. The results are shown below and clearly show that PETG results in a stronger part than ABS. Both materials offer more than sufficient stiffness, so this is really a strength-critical application.

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Finding the strongest build orientation

Figuring out the best build orientation is another challenge that is hard to answer without virtual or physical prototyping. With SmartSlice™, evaluating a new build orientation is straightforward and all a user needs to do is rotate the part on the build plate in the slicer, then run a validation.

Here, 3 build orientations for PETG were virtually prototyped with SmartSlice™ in less than 10 minutes total. The flat and side orientations produce similar Factor of Safety values, but the upright orientation has a Factor of Safety that is 60% higher than the flat and side orientations.

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Print setting optimization

Knowing that we want to use PETG and an upright build orientation, the last step is to optimize the print settings to find the shell thickness and infill density that satisfy the Factor of Safety requirement while minimizing the print time. Using physical prototyping to explore the various combinations of wall thickness, top/bottom layer thickness, and infill density would be very time-consuming and expensive. Virtual prototyping with SmartSlice™ is much more efficient because SmartSlice™ has an intelligent optimization algorithm that efficiently locates optimal print setting configurations. In 30 minutes, SmartSlice™ optimizes the print settings and presents the results back to the user in the form of a table containing 4 different solutions, each of which meets or exceeds the strength and stiffness requirements. The top-ranked solution has a Factor of Safety = 4.48, has the lowest print time, and uses modifier meshes to locally add material to low strength and low stiffness regions.

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Savings

In this example, SmartSlice™ was used to virtually prototype the following designs:

  • Material selection: ABS and PETG.
  • Build orientation evaluation: flat, side, and upright.
  • Print setting optimization: 4 optimized configurations automatically discovered and many more evaluated by SmartSlice™.

The total time to virtually prototype all of these designs and find the optimized configuration with SmartSlice™ was just 45 minutes. How long would it take to physically prototype these same designs? Assuming a conservative estimate of 5 designs for the print setting optimization step (it could require a lot more) and an average print and test time of 15 hours, the total time to physically prototype would be about 135 hours.

Read that again. 45 minutes with SmartSlice™ versus 135 hours without it. This is the value realized through the use of SmartSlice™.

Of course, you would still want to print and test the final design from SmartSlice™. Accounting for this time and assuming industry averages for labor and printer operation costs, the cost savings for this project with and without SmartSlice™ are shown below.

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Summary

Design and validation of FFF parts is made significantly easier and quicker using virtual prototyping with SmartSlice™. Through simulation, users can evaluate how different filaments, build orientations, and print settings affect the structural performance of their parts. Contact us today to schedule a meeting with our technical team and learn how SmartSlice™ can benefit your 3D printing workflows and take the guesswork out of configuring and validating your printed parts.

Optimization Modifier Mesh simulation