Dear Ashlar-Vellum: Most laser and waterjet cutting vendors that I’ve contacted prefer solid models in a SolidWorks format over any other format. I would prefer, however, to use my MAC and either Argon, Xenon, or Cobalt. What should I do to send files to laser and waterjet cutting facilities who ask for a 3D solid in a SolidWorks format?
—A Devoted Mac User
Dear Devoted: Laser and waterjet cutting of steel plate is a 2D process. In the end, the vendors need 2D vector files to drive their cutters. They are afraid of getting 3D wireframe or 3D surface files that must be carefully converted or 2D files that are incorrectly created.
Therefore they ask for a 3D solid so that the conversion process to 2D is under their control, and they ask for that 3D solid file in SolidWorks format because they’ve come to know the vagaries of that particular software and wish to convert the file themselves, dealing exclusively with the devil that they know.
If, however, you give them a 3D solid file in either ACIS (.sat) or Parasolid (.x_t) they can bring that file right into SolidWorks perfectly.
Some other benefits of preparing 3D solids for use by 2D plate cutting equipment is that by their very nature, 3D solids can only contain fully closed loops for the flat edges, and cannot contain any duplicate lines on an edge. Plus, every edge can only be used in one specific part. With most 2D file creation processes, it is all too easy not to close the loops to the mathematical precision required, or to accidentally duplicate edges, or share lines between nested parts.
—Ashlar-Vellum Product Management