Adoption and creativity will fabricate the environment for younger people to come into the industry. To this end, Dassault Systèmes, provider of design program SolidWorks, has taken steps towards creating a platform to engender more cross-disciplinary collaboration between university students studying STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) all over the world. Using its cloud-based 3D digital resources, students can apply their different faculties to tackle a project. In France the company runs 'Course en Cours' initiative, which encourages ten- to 18-year-olds to conceptualise, draw and build a racing car powered by an electric motor, expanding their range of skills not only in these STEM subject areas but also in design, communications and marketing.
Within its commercial arm, the company's SolidWorks software is just one among an abundance of design software available for both amateurs and professionals. These range from selectively free-to-use tools, like Blender and Autodesk, to Rhino for engineering and architectural applications and 3D print newcomers Adobe. This ever-growing roster seems to be moving the industry forward, opening up new paths through which people can become involved.
While some may shout for design programs to be made more accessible to the user, Nick Allen, founder of 3D Print UK, is of the mind that an easier process would only result from removing important features from the software. "Many companies continue to bring out new packages all the time that claim to make 3D printing more accessible and CAD modelling simpler, but all they're doing is dumbing down something that you can't really get around, and they only end up shooting themselves in the foot," he says. "The high-end packages are complicated because they have a setting for every feature that you could possibly require; simplifying that just eliminates tools, leaving you with a sub-standard model."
CAD software has been around for decades, he points out, and while developers are continuously attempting to narrow the process, people are mistaken in believing that the advent of 3D printing means that pre-production will become easier.
Arguably, most current design software does give designers creative flexibility; however, today's designer requires a great deal of skill to make the most of a program's potential. Even software targeted at beginners requires a bit of a learning curve. For designers, in the face of abundant choice and techniques, the challenge is still in choosing the right software and mastering it.
There is no quick fix to this, but one tool proposed by both Shapeways and the Maker's Café in London could save considerable effort and wastage: a '3D Print preview mode'. Similar to what those in the 2D print world would call 'pre-flighting', this would suggest to the designer when the model is not printable and propose alternatives. It's easy to see why such a function would be welcome in light of the steep costs generated by material consumption and, of course, labour hours when a printed piece isn't usable.
Design is the crucial element for all creative processes and 3D printing is no exception. As demand for entry-level design software packages grows, developers will need to tread a fine line between providing functionality and giving users something that they can make use of, no matter what level of expertise they possess or what application they want to create. Getting it right for artists, fashion designers and other consumer-facing work, however, would be an excellent first step in ensuring continued interest in the sector from younger creatives.