Updated Standard Provides 3D Printing Design Guidance

The guidance could help engineers from a broad array of industries communicate to manufacturers, product inspectors and others more effectively.

The guidance could help engineers from a broad array of industries communicate to manufacturers, product inspectors and others more effectively.

These 3D models exhibit degrees of freedom afforded by additive manufacturing, such as producing parts with complex geometry and made of multiple materials. Image courtesy of American Society of Mechanical Engineers.


The American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) published an updated standard—based in large part on research by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)—that includes language specifically for 3D printing. ASME’s standard, titled Y14.46 Product Definition for Additive Manufacturing, identifies important features for 3D printing and outlines how they should be documented. 

The guidance could help engineers from a broad array of industries communicate to manufacturers, product inspectors and others more effectively. Its adoption could clear a roadblock to the application of 3D printing at a larger scale. 

“The industry is in a digital transformation right now, moving away from physical 2D drawings, and additive manufacturing is one of the catalysts since it requires digital 3D models,” says Fredric Constantino, an ASME project engineering adviser. “And if you’re working on one of those models, this standard will guide you in making it understandable to both 3D printers and other people.”

With subtractive manufacturing, a common production method, machines carve out parts from blocks of raw material according to instructions, which can be outlined in a digital or physical 2D drawing. By contrast, additively manufactured products take shape from the ground up, as printers churn out one layer at a time, fusing them into a predetermined shape that can only be dictated by a 3D model. 

In addition to producing less waste than subtractive methods, 3D printing also allows for designs of higher complexity, such as those that are not completely solid, but partially hollow, filled with a meshwork that could come in many forms.

“Additive manufacturing has opened the door to a lot of unique design opportunities for engineers, but that freedom also creates challenges in communicating complex designs,” says NIST mechanical engineer Paul Witherell.

The lack of a consensus on how to convey aspects of a product related to 3D printing’s distinct capabilities has muddled communication between different organizations and created a barrier to more widespread technology use.

ASME responded to this roadblock in 2014, forming a committee of several dozen engineers from industry, academia and the federal government. The group, co-led by Witherell through 2019, sought to produce a uniform approach for defining 3D-printed products.

“We weren’t looking for ad hoc solutions. We were looking for solutions that could be standardized and implemented by the community to address these challenges with communication,” Witherell says. “We already know we can make good parts with additive manufacturing. Now the goal is to make lots of parts with additive manufacturing, and this is a necessary step.”

The committee developed the standard over the course of several years, drawing on input from 3D-printing experts and NIST research. They also incorporated feedback on a draft version of the standard released in 2017. 

With the new guidance, the group introduces concepts to address the nuances of 3D printing designs and the peculiarities of the printing process. Factors, including the orientation of a print and whether temporary structural supports are printed, can influence the strength, durability and other properties of the end product. 

Since printers need digital product information to be presented in a particular way, the guidance also includes a section on how to package 3D-model-based data so that it’s machine readable. 

Designers are meant to reference the new standard along with several previously established standards, which cover basic design considerations relevant to an array of manufacturing methods. 

3D printing holds advantages over more well-established manufacturing methods, but it has not been implemented nearly to the same degree. One reason for this has been the lack of a way to get design ideas across. 

If adopted by major players in manufacturing, the standard could improve communication for 3D printing.

“Some of ASME’s other standards go 10 years, 20 years without revision, but additive manufacturing is advancing so rapidly. We aim to keep pace by adding to this standard as time goes on,” Constantino says. 

For more information, visit ASME’s Additive Manufacturing Collection and NIST’s Measurement Science for Additive Manufacturing Program.

Sources: Press materials received from the company and additional information gleaned from the company’s website.

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