Easier Than You Think

Transitioning from a 2D Drawing to a 3D Model and Sending it to a 3D Printer Using AutoCAD®


Creating a complex 3-dimensional model and then producing the part in a 3D printer is not as daunting as you might think. In fact, it is a relatively simple process using Autodesk’s® AutoCAD® software. In addition, AutoCAD now has the ability to send a 3D model directly to a 3D printer.

There are two ways you can create a model for a 3D part in AutoCAD: 1) You can use the software’s 3D modeling tools to build the 3D model. 2) Or you can create a 2-dimensional drawing of the part, and then use the 3D modeling tools to extrude, revolve, sweep along a path, or loft the 2-dimensional drawing into a 3D model.

The first method may sound more efficient. But for more complex 3D models, AutoCAD users often find it easier and quicker to create a 2-dimensional drawing and then use the versatile 3D modeling tools to complete the model.

A simple example of how well this approach works is an extrusion. The extrusion is first drawn in 2 dimensions (flat). All the lines and arcs are then joined together to create a single object, as shown in Figure 1. The lines and arcs are joined together by first choosing the Polyline Edit command, selecting all the lines and arcs, and then using the Join command.


Figure 1: 2-dimensional drawing of the extrusion


The 2-dimensional drawing of the part is then extruded to the height required to produce the 3D model, as shown in Figure 2. The 2-dimensional single object is extruded to its height by choosing the Extrude command and then entering the height (in this case, 40 millimeters) required to produce the 3D model.


Figure 2: 3D model of the extrusion


AutoCAD now comes with a plug-in called Autodesk® Print Studio that allows you to send a completed 3D model directly to your 3D printer. If you want to manufacture the part in a material that your printer cannot handle or you do not have access to a 3D printer, a 3D model can be saved as a printer-ready file and sent to a 3D printing service to produce.

After selecting the 3D Print command, the Print Studio dialog box opens, giving you options such as placing the 3D model within the printing boundaries of the 3D printer, as shown in Figure 3. You also can rotate and scale the 3D model as needed.

Figure 3: Print Studio dialog box


When you are done, be sure to save your 3D file as a standard AutoCAD drawing file, as well as saving it as a printer-ready file.

As you can see from this example, printer-ready 3D models can be created with ease. Multipart assemblies can be created by first creating 2-dimensional drawings of each component, and then using the 3D tools to transition to a complete 3D model of the assembly.

For example, Figure 4 shows a 3D model of a Belt Tensioner Assembly that was created in this manner. At first glance, it looks rather complicated, but in reality it is a simple 3D model to create.

If you want to learn more about 3D modeling, you can find all the instructions and tips you need in my AutoCAD 3D Modeling Exercise Workbook. For more information, visit Industrial Press at https://books.industrialpress.com.

Figure 4: Belt Tensioner Assembly


Steve Heather is a former Lecturer of Mechanical Engineering and Computer Aided Design in England. For the past 10 years, he has been a Beta Tester for Autodesk, testing the latest AutoCAD software. Previous to teaching, and for more than 30 years, Steve worked as a Precision Engineer in the aerospace and defense industries. He is the co-author of the bestselling series of Beginning and Advanced AutoCAD Exercise Workbooks and the AutoCAD Pocket Reference, as well as author of the AutoCAD 3D Modeling Exercise Workbook and the Engineers Precision Data Pocket Reference. He also is a key engineering consultant and contributor to the Machinery’s Handbook.


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