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  • Printing Full-Colour Finite Element Analysis (FEA) Results On 3D Printers

    What if you could see, feel, and handle your FEA (Finite Element Analysis) results in the best way to share them with colleagues and students? The below tutorial goes through the steps on how to properly use SOLIDWORKS Simulation and GrabCAD Print in order to print full-colour FEA results on PolyJet colour printers, like the Stratasys J750. It’s far more simple than one would think it is.

    Step 1: Run An FEA Analysis

    To begin, get a model to analyze, or even from GrabCAD. The following is a sample file:

    grabcad model file import


    Run your FEA analysis to determine stress, displacement, or temperature. Your screen should look like this:

    Usually, you’d want a bit more contrast in the printed models. adjust the results scale until the highest stress areas are bright red rather than green:

    FEA Colors-step 2--Solidworks-green scale FEA Colors-step 3--Solidworks-green scale

    SOLIDWORKS Simulation is being used to do this particular FEA, the steps should be relatively similar in any modern package. Next comes the most significant step, which is exporting results in a way 3D  printers can read them.

    Step 2: Export Results As VRML

    When using SOLIDWORKS, one way to export FEA results is by right-clicking on the resulting graph and choosing the “Save As” option:

    FEA Colors-export VRML file-Solidworks

    The “Save As” choice brings up this screen, so ensure you’ve chosen VRML as your choice of format:

    FEA Colors-export VRML file-Solidworks

    VRML is a format that was originally produced for Virtual Reality programs. However, this has also been used for sharing 3D files with full colour and texture. When your VRML is ready, layout the tray.

    Step 3: Lay Out Tray In GrabCAD Print

    GrabCAD Print is a 3D printing preparation tool; a tool of which can import STL files that don’t retain their colour, native CAD files, that retain the block colour assigned to their CAD system, and VRML, which usually retains full colour and textures when imported.

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

    FEA colors-tray VRML file object-Solidworks

    NOTE: Units of the VRML file could potentially not match the default units in your GrabCAD Print install. The first bracket came in 1000 times too small until the import units were changed to meters.

    NOTE:  If you have an FDM printer selected or even one which doesn’t have a full-colour range, your preview will look different. Here is the same bracket on a uPrint tray:

    FDM printer-u tray

    NOTE: If you’ve had your model in a “deformed state” during step 2 in SOLIDWORKS, those deformations will show up in the VRML. An example would be how the formerly flat bottom of the bracket is now bent upwards, which shouldn’t print. In order to fix this, you’d have to redo step 2 with deformations off.

    deformed tray solidworks-VRML file

    Assuming the J750 is the printer of your choice, your VRML would be exported in the non-deformed state, and if your scale is correct, your bracket on the tray should look like this after re-orientation.

    FDM printer-VRML file no deformation

    Scale the model or make duplicates at this time if you wish to do so because the last step is to hit the print button on the lower right.

    Step 4: Print Your Model

    That GE bracket can take 10-15 hours to print. This depends on the scale and print quality used. After coming back the next morning and after cleaning off supports, this was the final result:

    GrabCAD 3D printed bracket GrabCAD 3D printed bracketGrabCAD 3D printed bracket












    Last Updated: Jul 16, 2021

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