3D printing software: How we optimize our batch using our Nesting tool
Last week, we started introducing you to the main tools of our in-house 3D printing software. Based on the expertise we’ve acquired over the years, we’ve developed production-focused 3D printing tools to optimize each aspect of the 3D printing process. Today, discover our Nesting tool, which determines the best way to pack your parts inside the build space of the 3D printer.
Optimizing the packing of a 3D printing job: A major challenge
High-throughput 3D printing requires two things:
- Production of high quantities (which entails densely packed jobs)
- Minimization of job failure and piece rejection (which tends to favour sparse jobs)
Nesting (a.k.a “Packing”) is the process by which a collection of 3D files are sorted, oriented and arranged in 3D space so that they can fit in a 3D printer. This involves translating them in space, rotating them either freely or constrained around specific axes and finally minimizing empty space while avoiding ‘no-build-zones’.
Furthermore, simply filling the machine is not enough. The nesting process should avoid dramatic changes in exposed surface area to avoid thermal artifacts such as curling (a defect where thermal shrinkage pulls the outer edges of a piece upwards, producing collisions with the powder depositor).
Using our own 3D printing software, to solve this issue
Sculpteo’s Nesting solves the first of these issues by densely packing the job (we routinely achieve packing densities of between 11 – 16% with random parts). This packing is started as a server-side multi-threaded job which makes it fast and accessible from any device, even low power devices such as tablets and smartphones.
The second issue is resolved by our Nesting’s exclusive “exposure balancing” which sacrifices some of the job’s z-height to shift designs a short distance in the z-axis where it’s necessary to homogenize the exposed surface area across the job. This reduces thermal stresses and greatly reduces failure rates and curling.
Exposure area as a function of time before and after area averaging (extreme example). Note the ‘smoothing out’ of abrupt changes – greatly reducing curling risk.
How we built our Nesting tool
Nesting started life as an internal 3D printing tool in Sculpteo’s production centers about two years ago. We had previously used third party 3D printing software for packing jobs but we found that it couldn’t achieve the packing densities we knew were possible and left much to be desired when it came to exposure averaging.
As a result, we first developed the Nesting software, fully integrated and extensible with our order system. Ordered files, after initial quality checks, were now automatically added to the right job in the right quantity. All an operator had to do now was start a nesting job from any logged in device and return once the job was finished.
After this transition from a third party 3D printing software to Nesting, we then worked on area averaging, with concomitant improvements in quality and reductions in job failure. Since this transition two years ago, Sculpteo has not used any third party 3D printing tools in mainline production across our whole SLS fleet, meaning Nesting has been used on thousands of jobs and hundreds of thousands of parts since its introduction.
What our team says about this 3D printing software
Every day and in every job, our production team reaps the benefits of Nesting. Each technician wastes less time and has more time to focus on higher value tasks like maintenance and quality control. Here’s what they say about it.
“We save time and we don’t need to download all of the 3D models to nest them anymore, or download the whole job. Thanks to our Nesting tool, we can work faster with less error and create the best packing without our intervention in the process.”
Enzo Mauricci, Operator
“Before Sculpteo created Nesting, we were using third party software and we had no visibility during the whole packing process. As a result, we were losing out on a lot of data. With this 3D printing tool we can collect more data and use this knowledge to make our whole 3D printing process better. Moreover, since it has been developed in-house, using our daily feedback, it perfectly matches the needs of a high throughput production center.”
Matthieu Sausse, Head of Production