Around about the time I got my 3D printer working I saw that the University of Iowa was offering a Senior College course “Designing and Manufacturing with Computer Modeling and 3D Printing”. That sounded useful so I signed up for it. The most important software tool for 3D printing is the 3D design program and I was looking around for a suitable program to use.  Just a week before the course started a friend turned me on to Autodesk Fusion 360. This looked like a nice program and it was targeted to 3D printing users. So I decided to learn it. Then along comes the Senior College course and it turns out to be primarily how to use Autodesk 3DS Max 2016 a much more complicated program. Since 3DS Max is not free like Fusion 360 I decided to concentrate on learning Fusion 360 and take whatever I could get from the course on the overall 3D design process.

The biggest hurdle to get over is figuring out the order things are done in 3D design. In 2D drafting if you wanted to draw a 1x2x0.5 bar with a 0.25 hole that is what you would draw. In the 3D system the general idea is to sketch out the basic form (bar with hole) then go back and add the dimensions and any other features for the design. When designing more complex shapes you really have to think through how best to go about getting the shape you want and the order of the operations. Several times I have gone down a path and had to back up or start over  to get where I wanted to go. I was hoping to get some of the how to go about it from the course but 3DS Max is so complex that about all that could be taught was the basic which button to push. It would have been nice if there were some student helpers there that could help with the basic questions about the program.

There is a difference in the process between creating an artistic pleasing shape and mechanical design where you need make a part that has precise dimensions that have to be followed. From what I know so far 3DS Max seems more suited to the artistic process and Fusion 360 to the mechanical design process. Of course this could be because I haven’t found the appropriate functions in 3DS Max. It kind of looks like you may be able to customize the 3DS Max workspace for different processes.


Above is an image of half a flywheel that I am designing using Fusion 360. The goal here is to print this in plastic then use the plastic printed part as a pattern to cast the flywheel in metal. A plastic flywheel would not be too useful.

There are other approaches to 3D printing besides designing an object using a CAD program. Online there are several repositories of things already designed that one can download and print or order a print. I have used this a few times to get parts and accessories for my 3D printer.


Above is a Christmas tree ornament that I downloaded the design and printed.

Yet another approach is making copies of existing objects either full size or miniature replicas.

I used the Autodesk product Memento to generate a 3D mesh of a broken gnomon. Hopefully I can digitally repair this, print a plastic pattern and using the pattern cast a new gnomon in brass.


This process involves taking many pictures of the object from every possible angle then processing the photos using the Memento software. I have yet to figure out exactly how to go about doing the repairs. Memento provides some tools to manipulate the mesh and there are other tools to work with meshes.

Even if you don’t own a 3D printer a working knowledge of 3D design software can be useful. There are quite a number of companies that offer 3D printing services. You can submit your design files online and get quotes and order printed parts. These companies offer quite a number of different materials including metal.


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