Blog Menu

3D-Printed Saxophone

August 17, 2014

Filed under: 3D printing,additive manufacturing,CAD/CAM/CAE — Terry Wohlers @ 08:08

Note: The following was authored by Tim Caffrey, senior consultant at Wohlers Associates.

Olaf Diegal has done it again. His latest feat: a 3D-printed alto saxophone. At 575 grams vs. 2.5 kg, the laser-sintered nylon instrument weighs less than a quarter of a metal sax. Consisting of 41 separate parts, not counting the metal springs and screws, a saxophone is an incredibly complex instrument. One can only imagine how time-consuming the modeling of all the 3D-printed parts was using SolidWorks.

Olaf admits his first version had a few small problems. Nevertheless, as a design exercise, his sax is nothing short of amazing. For the second version, he plans to redesign the instrument by integrating all the spring actions into the 3D-printed parts.


The attention Olaf’s sax has drawn on the Internet is also amazing. His YouTube “sneak preview” video has been viewed nearly 200,000 times since it was posted less than three weeks ago.

One reason Olaf decided to tackle the challenge was to show that real-world products beyond trinkets and Yoda heads can be 3D printed. He is actively looking for a new challenge in design and 3D printing and has asked us to help him identify a new project. So, if you have ideas, please pass them along to him or us.

Olaf is an associate consultant at Wohlers Associates and a professor of mechatronics at Lund University in Lund, Sweden. You may be familiar with the stunning 3D-printed guitar bodies that Olaf designs, prints, and assembles into fully functional masterpieces. If you are unfamiliar with them, have a look at the ODD Guitars.


August 3, 2014

Filed under: 3D printing,additive manufacturing,CAD/CAM/CAE,manufacturing,travel — Terry Wohlers @ 14:33

Imagine an eight-month RV road trip across the U.S. with more than 100 scheduled stops. The purpose: to collect stories and information from customers of design and manufacturing tools, such as CAD software and 3D printing. Accomplished writer and 3D enthusiast TJ McCue is leading the tour. I’ve gotten to know TJ over the past 2.5 years, and I can say without reservation that Autodesk, the tour’s sponsor, could not have picked a better person to head this effort.

TJ has written extensively for Forbes, Small Business Trends, Yahoo! SMB, and Harvard Business Review. His writing is informative, thought-provoking, and engaging. TJ’s company, Refine Digital, explores design, 3D scanning, and 3D printing, so the tour compliments perfectly with what he’s about. TJ helps companies with go-to-market strategies, content marketing, and business development, so I’m sure he will be in an even stronger position to provide advice after the tour.


TJ wrote, “The 3DRV tour is exploring the cities, towns, and off-the-path byways to uncover a fundamental change in the way things are designed and made, and how this is bringing radical change to business and to society at large.” He continued, “At each waypoint, we are celebrating the creative process, while illuminating the impact of design through firsthand customer stories, consumer creativity, and student innovations.”


The images and descriptions that TJ has assembled are impressive. He has made 38 site visits thus far—all documented at the tour website. He is also shooting video footage, so I’m looking forward to seeing some of it. I’m sure he will have countless stories and examples of design and manufacturing to share with the world. Congrats to TJ for taking on this important activity as an interesting way of promoting and celebrating the world of product development.

Organic Modeling with SolidWorks

May 25, 2014

Filed under: 3D printing,additive manufacturing,CAD/CAM/CAE — Terry Wohlers @ 08:33

Note: The following was authored by Olaf Diegel, associate consultant at Wohlers Associates.

Most of my 3D-printed guitar designs include organic 3D shapes. By organic, I mean objects such as insects, animals, and flowers, with lots of flowing surfaces. Many people have asked me how I use SolidWorks, a popular CAD software product, to create these objects.

I begin by breaking down the entire design into as many separate features as I can. I do this whether the part is highly organic, or a regular geometric part. If one looks at a honey bee, for example, its body is a very complex shape that could be a serious challenge to model as a single feature. When breaking the bee’s body into the head, neck, waist, and main body, each individual part is much less complex than the whole, making the object simpler to model. (The head, for example, is further broken into the beak, eyes, etc.) I do it all as a single part, but first model the main body as a feature, than add the waist as the next feature, then the neck, and the head. I usually need a few simple fillets to blend the parts together. And, finally, I add the wings and legs, and voila, … it’s a bee.


Most 3D CAD software generally offers two approaches: solid modeling and surface modelling. Surface modelling typically allows easier control of complex surfaces, but also requires extra steps to make things that are directly 3D printable. Gaps or overlaps between surfaces can cause problems. When working on complex shapes, I usually use a combination of both solid and surface modeling. I’ll start the overall shape as a surface and, as soon as I have enough completed, I’ll convert it into a solid. From that point forward, I work on it as a solid.

When working on models that will be 3D printed, I try to keep in mind the level of detail that will be visible after 3D printing. If, for example, I create King Kong sitting on the Empire State Building that’s only 10 mm in height, most facial features will not be visible. Therefore, I don’t waste much time on those fine features, although it is easy to sometimes get carried away because it’s fun to add the details.

It is usually only after I have modeled something that I realize how I could have done it in a much easier way, so I often go back and do it again in a completely different way. Trying different ways of doing something, often several times with different methods, is how I learn the best ways of 3D modeling complex organic objects with SolidWorks.

SolidWorks World 2013

February 1, 2013

Filed under: 3D printing,additive manufacturing,CAD/CAM/CAE,event — Terry Wohlers @ 09:07

I attended SolidWorks World 2013 last week in Orlando, Florida, and it was another excellent event. About 4,500 people were in attendance. For me, two of the highlights were presentations by Vijay Kumar, an engineering professor at the University of Pennsylvania, and Elias Knubben, head of Corporate Bionic Projects at Festo.

Kumar shared the impressive work by him and his students. They have designed flying robots that are equipped with sensors and other devices that give them some intelligence. The aircraft, which can fit in the palm of a hand, can fly into buildings and tight places and gather information using small cameras. A likely application is search and rescue after a natural disaster. Another is going into areas where enemies and other threats may exist. Swarms of robots can fly in formation and avoid collision with one another—something I found particularly interesting.

Knubben of Festo showed some extraordinary parts and products, such as robot grippers made by laser sintering, a popular method of additive manufacturing. The gripper itself does not look all that interesting, until it is used. When instructed, the gripper flexes and wraps itself around an object, such as a piece of fruit, before picking it up. Knubben was kind enough to give the gripper to me and I found the design surprisingly simple, but effective.

Knubben’s team at Festo also designed a large bionic bird, called SmartBird, and it flies by flapping its wings. Knubben had the bird with him on stage. When it started to flap its wings, he gently flung it into the air and it began to fly. SmartBird circled the ballroom a couple times before landing in Knubben’s hands. I had never seen anything like it. Similar to Kumar’s small aircraft, many parts of the bird were designed with SolidWorks and produced by laser sintering.

Attending SolidWorks World was again worthwhile. If you want to get an update on the latest in SolidWorks software, applications, and company, it is the event to attend. The morning speakers are usually very good, although no celebrities made appearances this year. The exhibits are also worth some time. SolidWorks World 2014 is January 26-29 in San Diego, California.

COFES 2012

May 13, 2012

Filed under: CAD/CAM/CAE,event — Terry Wohlers @ 13:51

The Congress on the Future of Engineering Software (COFES) is like no other event that I’ve attended in my 30 years of travel. Most industry events are filled with back-to-back presenters, but not COFES. Instead, the three-day event includes many casual briefings, open discussions, and informal conversations—all by design. The free exchange that occurs at the event is really quite something. COFES 2012 was April 12–15 at the Scottsdale Plaza Resort in Paradise Valley, Arizona—the venue for the past 13 years.

COFES was the brainchild of long-time friends Brad Holtz of Cyon Research (the organizer of COFES), futurist Dr. Joel Orr, and Evan Yares of WTWH Media. I met Brad in July 1984 when he and Joel attended the First Annual International Forum on Micro-based CAD here in Fort Collins, Colorado. Brad and Joel met on the shuttle bus from the Denver airport to Fort Collins. Joel was our keynote speaker.

About 300 attended COFES 2012 and a significant number were top CAD/PLM industry luminaries. Brad has done an impressive job at getting the “Who’s Who” in this industry to attend year after year. Thirty-three spouses attended, including mine. Brad and his small army of staff treated us and others like royalty. The food, entertainment, and all activities associated with the event were first-class. The cost to attend COFES is $1,995 to $2,895, depending on when you register.

COFES 2012 was my fifth, if my memory serves me correctly. At most of them, including this one, Brad has invited me to host a briefing on additive manufacturing and 3D printing. A briefing is a casual gathering of 10-25 people in a hotel suite. Brad asks the hosts to start the meeting with 3-5 minutes of comments and then open up it to discussion. I always bring many AM parts to pass around, so they always generate questions and comments. Interest in the subject of 3D printing at COFES is at an all-time high.

One of the special events at COFES 2012 was a presentation by Dr. Alan Kay. He is one of the earliest pioneers of object-oriented programming, personal computing, and graphical user interfaces. Alan has been a Xerox Fellow, Chief Scientist of Atari, Apple Fellow, Disney Fellow, and HP Senior Fellow. Another special session was a “fireside chat” with Dick Morley. He is the inventor of the programmable logic controller (PLC), anti-lock brakes, and the floppy disk. I had the privilege of serving on a Society of Manufacturing Engineers’ committee with Dick for several years, so I got to know him pretty well.

Indeed, COFES is like no other event, and it is a privilege to attend and participate. People are asked to dress casually (no coats and ties), and many wear shorts and sandals. Brad knows how to create a relaxing atmosphere and get people to contribute constructively on a wide range of subjects. I go away inspired and recharged and I’m already looking forward to the next one.

SolidWorks World 2012

February 18, 2012

Filed under: CAD/CAM/CAE,event — Terry Wohlers @ 16:30

I attended SolidWorks World earlier this week and I’m glad I did. It is one of the few CAD events I attend and it’s an excellent opportunity to stay abreast of important advances in SolidWorks. More than 5,600 people from 33 countries traveled to San Diego to attend. I find the special guest speakers, and the press conferences that follow, to be among the most inspiring part of the event each year. These presentations, alone, make it worthwhile. Past speakers include Virgin’s Sir Richard Branson, movie producer James Cameron, and Apollo 13’s Jim Lovell and Gene Krantz. The guest speakers are often kept under wraps, making it a surprise when they appear on stage.

This year, we were treated to Mike Rowe of the Discovery Channel’s Dirty Jobs. Mike has been involved in 300 “dirty jobs” in all 50 states and is an exceptionally bright guy that’s down to earth. He discussed the mounting skills gap and pointed out that we no longer have only white and blue collar workers in the U.S. He stressed that there’s many important “middle ground” positions and addressed the need to recognize them and the people needed to fill them.

Tony Fadell, formerly of Apple, was another special guest speaker. Tony is considered by many as the “father” of the iPod and served as senior vice president of the iPod Division at Apple. He also led the team that developed the iPhone. Tony mentioned the arguments he had with Steve Jobs over making the iPod compatible with Windows. I told him that I was reading the Steve Jobs book and he smiled, signifying that we were both aware of Steve Jobs’ interesting management style at Apple. Tony is surprisingly young (born in 1969), and in 2010, he founded a company named NEST that’s creating a product for consumers. You might be surprised, as I was, to learn that it’s a thermostat for homes, a product that’s more exciting than it sounds.

A third special guest speaker was Ben Kaufman, the founder and head of Quirky. The company is focused on accepting new product ideas from anyone and then taking some of the best to market. Ben said that they receive about 200-300 ideas for new products every day and two of them are selected for development each week. Quirky has a team of people that advance the ideas, along with many others who contribute to the effort. The result is the commercialization of one product every week. I asked Ben how many of the products are successful and how they measure success. He responded by saying that all of them are successful at some level, although only a few of the products find their way into stores such as Walmart or Target, in the case of consumer products.

SolidWorks World 2012, for me, ended before the final day because I had to wing my way to another event near the east coast. I was lucky enough to attend the Tuesday evening Block Party at The Gaslamp Quarter in San Diego. I can’t imagine the total cost of this three-hour party for 5,000+ SolidWorks enthusiasts. SolidWorks Corp. knows how to treat its customers and how to create world-class software that gets them excited. SolidWorks World 2013, set for January 20-23 in Orlando, Florida, was announced by CEO Bertrand Sicot on Wednesday.

Engineering Salaries

December 24, 2011

Filed under: CAD/CAM/CAE,money — Terry Wohlers @ 10:33

Most design engineers in the U.S. are happy with their profession and what they are being paid. According to the August 2011 issue of Design News, salaries are $93,465, on average, and are up 4.3% from last year. Also, if you’re seen as a generalist, you may be rewarded more handsomely than if you’re a niche engineer. In recent years, companies have been seeking people who can work with hardware, software, and embedded systems, and can manage projects.

Salaries vary across regions. Engineers in the Mountain States are receiving $109,853, the Design News survey indicates. Those in California, Arizona, and Nevada are a close second, with annual pay of $107,407. Those at the other end of the salary range are in the Southeast region and are receiving $86,076. Engineers working in industrial controls and the defense industry are among those receiving the most pay.

As for satisfaction, more than half (52%) of survey respondents said they were very or extremely satisfied with design engineering. As many as 78% said they would recommend engineering to children. Solving problems, technical challenges, and the opportunity for creativity were the most cited reasons for satisfaction. About 25% said they were concerned about job security.

The picture presented by the Design News survey is quite favorable for the engineering profession. Nearly two-thirds (65%) said that their salary increased over the past year. Only 4% saw a decrease. Now is not a bad time to enter the engineering field, especially as we see product development and manufacturing activity increase. More information on the survey is at here.

Happy Holidays!

Netfabb Mobile

September 18, 2011

Filed under: 3D printing,additive manufacturing,CAD/CAM/CAE,review — Terry Wohlers @ 09:26

I’ve downloaded many impressive apps for my HTC Evo 4G Android smartphone after getting it in December 2010. The one that ranks near the top is Netfabb Mobile. It enables you to open STL files, even large ones, for zooming, panning, and rotating of 3D models. Netfabb Mobile spins fully-rendered models in real-time—performance that exceeds the display of similar models on high-end UNIX workstations of the past.

With Netfabb Mobile, you can download STL files from the web or import them locally. Using the phone’s charge cable, it’s simple to copy STL files to the device’s SD card. A couple taps later and you are reviewing the models. The people at Netfabb could not have made it easier. The Evo’s bright 57 x 95 mm (2.25 x 3.7 inch) screen, coupled with Netfabb Mobile, offers striking 3D graphics. When spinning a fully-rendered model, jaws drop.

I opened the well-know “brain gear” file that’s 3.6 MB in size and a Jaguar hood ornament that’s 7.5 MB. Both displayed relatively fast and zooming, panning, and rotating were surprisingly good. The app also calculates the model’s total volume, surface area, and number of triangles.

If you’re looking for a portable STL model viewer, consider this one. It downloads and installs quickly, it’s simple, and the performance is almost unbelievable. With it being free, you can’t go wrong. And, there’s an iPhone version available.

SolidWorks Corp.

September 3, 2011

Filed under: CAD/CAM/CAE,review — Terry Wohlers @ 08:25

I visited Dassault Systemes’ SolidWorks Corp. in Concord, Massachusetts this week. It was part of a special event for industry analysts and members of the press. I have watched the company mature since its founding and it’s been interesting to see it develop into a world-class organization. SolidWorks has gained a high level of respect from organizations of all sizes from around the world.

Many customers, partners, and others affiliated with the company have been pleased to see that principal founder Jon Hirschtick continues to support the company as an employee and visionary. Co-founders, such as Scott Harris and Vic Leventhal, have remained visible at industry events and happily reflect on their early days at SolidWorks. Getting to know them and other former executives has strengthened the connection that people have to the software and company.

This week, Fielder Hiss, vice president of Product Management, reviewed key features and milestones from 20 releases of SolidWorks. It was an excellent summary of where the software began and how far it has come. New features in SolidWorks 2012 were disclosed later in the day, but those in attendance were asked to hold all comments on them until September 6. Stay tuned.

Where is SolidWorks Corp. going in the future? I had the opportunity of spending one-on-one time with most of the company’s top management, including Bertrand Sicot, the relatively new CEO. Over the years, I had formed a good relationship with former CEO Jeff Ray, who is now at Dassault corporate in France, and was sorry to see him leave. However, I was impressed by what I saw and heard from Sicot and believe that he connects well with others, similar to Ray. I believe he has the personality, respect, and credentials to be a successful chief executive.

The time I spent this week with SolidWorks employees gave me a sense that they have what it takes to continue what the founders started more than 15 years ago. SolidWorks Corp. is a well-oiled machine that I believe will thrive and impact product development as well as anyone in the engineering software business. The people, strategies, and software products are positioned for the next several years.

Carl Bass and IDEAS

May 28, 2011

Filed under: 3D printing,additive manufacturing,CAD/CAM/CAE,event,future — Terry Wohlers @ 14:20

I was presented with the opportunity to spend some one-on-one time with Carl Bass, CEO of Autodesk. I had never met him, so I jumped at the chance. I found that he is not the typical chief executive of a $2 billion company. He was down to earth, very focused on our conversation, and did not seem rushed, even though an event with special international guests was about to begin.

Unlike most executives, Carl gets his hands dirty, literally. He likes to create and build stuff, such as baseball bats for a Little League team that he has coached. He also uses design software and produces parts with 3D printing. His company owns and operates several 3D printers and he and his employees are excited about how the technology could develop in the future.

I was very lucky to receive an invitation to attend a special Carl Bass event this week at the beautiful Autodesk Gallery facility in downtown San Francisco. Initially, I had mixed feelings about it, only because it partially conflicted with the successful RAPID 2011 Conference & Exposition held in Minneapolis, Minnesota. It turned out that I made the right decision to accept the invitation. Before going to Autodesk, I attended the Maker Faire in San Mateo, along with about 95,000 others. This, in itself, was an intriguing and worthwhile experience. I also caught an interesting presentation by Carl Bass at the Maker Faire.

The Autodesk program was a part of its relatively new IDEAS: The Innovation + Design Series—a “think tank” format made up of hand-picked individuals from around the world. The event was titled Reimaging Manufacturing: The Technologies Driving the New Industrial Revolution. It focused largely on the making of objects and products with 3D printing and how this technology might change the face of manufacturing in the future. Among the relatively small group in attendance were Chris Anderson of Wired magazine, Neil Gershenfield of MIT, Mitch Free of, and Ping Fu of Geomagic.

The discussions were stimulating and the thinking associated with 3D printing and additive manufacturing was much more advanced than I had anticipated. Many of these people are not “contaminated” by the additive manufacturing problems and limitations of the past. Those in attendance, including several Autodesk executives and Carl Bass himself, have strong and interesting views of where these tools might go in the future and how they could shape entirely new markets, opportunities, and business models. I felt very lucky to have been a part of it, but sincerely wish I could have stayed for the entire event.

« Previous PageNext Page »