The promise of cheap and widely available 3D printers may be one of the best and worst aspects of Additive Manufacturing (AM). A non-technical consumer may pay significantly more for a 3D printer with “no assembly required”. Since it is reasonable to assume that they may not understand how the printer works and what will come out of it, they may wind up returning it because it does not meet their expectations. While consumers are starting to use 3D printers, designers in industry are utilizing Rapid Prototyping (RP) machines to manufacture final products in addition to prototypes. Designers will need to know AM principles in order to communicate design specifications to a RP lab technician so that a part passes Quality Assurance inspection. Training users on fundamental layer-based manufacturing methods can assist before and after a 3D printer purchase and reduce the strain on RP labs in industry.
This paper presents an extensible software application that simulates an AM process in a Virtual Reality (VR) environment. The application parses machine component movements and printed segment attributes from G-code files exported from the MakerBot® Computer Aided Manufacturing (CAM) software. Position, speed, and type of movement are used to simulate the physical machine movements. A print “segment” is created at the start and end positions of a print movement. Color-coding segment attributes and modifying their size and shape establishes a visual relationship between terminology for a print setting and its representation in the virtual environment. This visual relationship between printed segments and print settings makes it easier to learn the 3D printing process and associated terminology. Novice and expert users can modify print settings in the virtual environment before and after printing a prototype. Identifying and fixing a mistake in the virtual environment reduces the time and cost to print a part with the desired quality.
Training multidisciplinary users in a virtual world allows them to explore AM processes in detail from any angle or scale desired. This application has been tested in a cube shaped virtual reality CAVE system with each side measuring ten feet powered by a 96-node graphics computer cluster. Approximately 20 hours of demonstrations have been performed for public outreach programs related to STEM initiatives and visitors from industry who have had a variety of AM experience.