Prepare your model for 3D printing with CATIA V5

This tutorial is for 3D printing enthusiasts who are already familiar with CATIA and would like to know the tricks for making a 3D printable model with CATIA.

Throughout this tutorial, you will learn the best practices for modeling, correcting and exporting an object to be 3D printed and we will share our special tips and tricks with you. By the end of this tutorial, you’ll have mastered:

·         Modeling for 3D Printing with CATIA V5

·         Analysing and exporting your 3D model

·         Fixing common errors

·         Transform a 3D scan into a printable model

CATIA software is a modeling program geared toward the modeling of industrial objects, but it can be used for much more than just that. Its function relies on the use of waves and NURBS for the base of its functions. Unlike many other programs, CATIA does not rely on a single function of meshing, which relies entirely on flat surfaces giving the impression of curves, instead it relies on a system of nurbs which take the average of those edges for a truly smooth surface. The system allows for a higher level of precision than other methods. Instead of polygonal modeling, CATIA relies on dimensional sketches which make measuring and resizing the object much more accurate. With a system based on these parameters, exporting becomes quick, easy, and surprisingly light as each individual file understands a large number of nurbs.

Though this type of system can make the creation of specific and organic forms (like a face) somewhat complicated. It also limits importable files to only other wave-based files (.iges and .step more specifically).

It is possible to export directly from CATIA to .STL with a high level of control and precision. This gives users the opportunity to model for 3D printing directly from the program, provided a couple of rules are respected.

You do not need to be an expert or know all of the minute details of CATIA to understand this tutorial. However, it is important to be comfortable with the basic elements of the program and its user interface as this tutorial focuses specifically on the best practices for creating a 3D printable model, and not on getting started with this CAD software. Thus this CATIA V5 tutorial does not go into the basic principles of the program and is not an introduction to CATIA.

For more information on beginner CATIA tutorials, feel free to check out the CATIA channel on Youtube to find a video tutorial for beginners or a complete online documentation that will help you learn CATIA V5.

CATIA is paid professional software. It is possible to obtain a license from Dassault Systèmes, CATIA’s creator. There is also a student edition, available whatever the school/university you come from, for a fee of 99 euros with your student card, quite useful for learning CATIA for students.

Modelling for 3D Printing

A couple of good practices must be followed in order to create an effective 3D model. New limits arise with new materials and it’s important to keep in mind that what you’re creating on the screen will become a physical object, limited by a different set of physics, namely gravity. In this part of the tutorial, you will learn the key notions for creating a model that can be 3D printed through CATIA.

CATIA modeling relies on a system of splines (spline modeling), which allows for extreme precision. That, coupled with CATIA’s body volume system, a system in which classic constraints are automatically treated, make for even further precision. CATIA only generates coherent solids which are thus easily translated into a physical object.

It is also important to follow the following rules:

·         The various bodies in your model cannot intersect

·         All of the elements in your model must have a thickness

·         The object must have a clear interior and exterior (this is generated automatically in CATIA)

·         The file’s optimal size should be less than 50Mb after the export. This limit is generally enough for a file that does not lose any detail or information. The tutorial will go into further detail about exporting and file restrictions in a later chapter dedicated to mesh exportation.

·         Finally, as previously mentioned, you must not forget that the digital object will become a physical one: a small and thin structure cannot support a top-heavy design. Keep the material’s restrictions (minimum thicknesses, resistance, etc.) in mind when designing. To do so, you can check out our material page.

With the exception of assembled folders, mobile pieces, and other designs that are physically separated, it is essential that your file has only one body within it. Files, which have more than one body, will be covered in a later chapter dedicated to moving and assembled pieces).

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