Build Your 3D CAD Models Right . . Your New Product Design Depends on it.

3d stl vs step file cad models formats

The 3D program tools and file format options available for building 3D CAD Models are many. Naturally, the options for freelancer specialization of those tools are equally as numerous.  With so many variables, it’s important to understand a few basics before employing any of these tools or talents for your new product design.  In the end, your 3D CAD data is the most valuable asset you have in translating your designs to a manufacturable state.

CAD Engineering and Manufacturing Design vs. 3D Cinematography and Animation Formats.  One of the first mistakes people make when having 3D CAD Models of their new product concepts built is that they fail to understand the impact of using the wrong development platforms or CAD file formats.  There are programs created specifically for developing new custom parts and assemblies to be used in their manufactured goods.  Solidworks, Pro Engineer and the Autodesk Inventor series currently lead as the industry standard CAD programs for new manufactured product designs. It’s not uncommon however, for unqualified freelancers and “designers” to deliver product design concepts authored using 3D cinematography, polygonal mesh formats or programs like Blender or Maya.  The specifics as to how these 3D formats vary and why they matter to your project will be covered in more depth within another blog post. For now, if you’re unsure of what formats are preferred in the development, engineering and manufacturing of your new product designs, the following list will serve as a reference of what to look for:

Most Widely Used and Industry Standard 3D CAD Modeling and Assemblies File Formats

*.SLDASM –3D Assembly File Format
*.SLDPRT – 3D Part File Format
*.SLDDRW – 2D Layout and Detail Drawing Format

Pro Engineer
*.asm –3D Assembly File Format
*.prt – 3D Part File Format
*.drw – 2D Layout and Detail Drawing Format

Autodesk Inventor
*.iam –3D Assembly File Format
*.ipt – 3D Part File Format
*.idw – 2D Layout and Detail Drawing Format

Autodesk AutoCAD
*.dwg –2D Drawing File Format

Industry Standard 3D CAD Import, Export and 2D Drawing Interchange File Formats

The following list of file formats are the most common industry standards used for simple import and export of 2D and 3D CAD Model data for exchange between the various programs used to design, manufacture and prototype new product concepts:

3D Solid Models, Surfaces and Curves Data
*.IGS / *.IGES

These formats in some cases may carry over parametric source information when translated but there are always limitations with regards to edit capabilities within the receiving programs.  Native formats of the current CAD software release level are always preferred.

2D Drawing Files Exchange

3D Printing and Rapid Prototyping Processes

Note : The 3D *.stl CAD Models format is a standard for both CAD engineering and manufacturing design and is used primarily for exporting to 3D Printing and other Rapid Prototyping processes.  It is however, also used by cinematographers, 3D character designers and animators for movies and games.  The *.stl file format cannot be edited or manipulated by engineers or product designers, hence any data developed and exported using this format is only valuable for visualization purposes when imported. *.stl will serve as reference geometry only, and parts or assemblies must be rebuilt in order to produce mold design or other production manufacturing data if in fact all that exists is *.stl 3D data.

Be sure to work with a professional who uses industry standard Engineering and Manufacturing Design tools to build your 3D CAD Models of your new product design.  When project milestones are completed or when you are ready to release data to your manufacturer, be sure you have both source files and export file formats like the ones listed above.  If your freelancer or product designers are not able to provide you with a proper product design release package, please contact us as we may be able to assist you.

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