By Melissa Donovan
The February issue of Industrial Print magazine took a look at the software behind three-dimensional (3D) printers. Some are OEM specific while others are open source from third-party vendors. In either scenario, the goal is to take a very complex process and automate it so that novice to experienced users can easily manufacture a 3D printed part.
To continue our discussion on 3D printer software, we look at just how user friendly these solutions need to be from the feature sets and user interface to how the software is accessed or purchased.
People from all backgrounds use 3D printing. To cater to novice customers, it’s important for the software to be user intuitive. And to be fair, even the most experienced professional may need some help now and then.
AlphaSTAR Corporation’s suite of Integrated Computational Materials Engineering tools is referred to as GENOA 3DP, which takes very complex processes and makes them user friendly. “We have developed advanced physics-based modules derived from state-of-the-art research that are now in the hands of the average user, in order to empower her/him to succeed at the highest levels of material and engineering competence,” explains Sarah Abdi, marketing communications manager, AlphaSTAR.
Ultimaker Cura is an integrated workflow solution. An open source product, users can access Ultimaker Marketplace for various materials resulting in the best consumable required for the part. Ultimaker Essentials offers enhanced security, control, and management across distributed printers. This helps streamline 3D printer deployment at scale in an enterprise environment.
“At Ultimaker, creating a solution that is approachable and easy to use for all skill sets is a priority. We have always worked toward offering customers an entire ecosystem that enables professionals to adopt and ramp up 3D printing seamlessly,” shares Paul Heijmans, SVP of software, Ultimaker.
Successful software providers take the complications out of additive manufacturing (AM). “AM is complex behind the scenes and software must be designed to hide that complexity while enabling users to produce the parts they require,” notes Michael Hackney, VP of software engineering, Desktop Metal.
Internally, Desktop Metal develops the firmware and console applications for each of its 3D printers. Externally from its printer, Live Parts is a generative design application that allows for the production of lighter, stronger, and innovative parts. Fabricate is a cloud-based service that analyzes 3D geometry and provides tools for preparing models. It also offers management and orchestration for definer and furnace devices used to transform the printed part to its final metal form.
“It is critical that the AM industry—from hardware to software—focus on building products that are user friendly. Appealing to customer experience will be key as we push adoption forward,” agrees Heijmans.
Trinckle’s paramate software is built with user friendliness in mind. The interface allows anyone to use the product, with no previous CAD knowledge necessary. The company builds a configurator according to a customer’s specifications that will automate all recurring design tasks despite the level of complexity.
Subscription-based software solutions are popular in many verticals and 3D printers are no exception.
Heijmans believes subscription-based software makes it easier for organizations to adopt 3D printing. “It is a competitive way to sell a product and aligns with how IT departments commonly invest in systems and technology. It also allows flexibility—companies can cancel or ramp up without significant financial impact.”
“The advantages of subscription versus purchased/licensed products have been debated for many years. In general, subscription software is associated with a cloud service, so advantages include no installation or maintenance, anywhere access, and automatic data backup. One-time fee options offer more visibility for cost control,” says Hackney.
One-time fee options are still available, but many providers include a variation of a subscription-based license into the plan to accommodate any updates down the road. AlphaSTAR offers annual license options or pay upfront with annual maintenance.
“The benefit of an annual lease is lower cost to acquire a license and support is included. Whereas the benefit of a paid-up option is the long-term ownership of a license with a smaller maintenance fee on an annual basis, while also providing significant cost savings by year three in the case of GENOA 3DP,” explains Abdi.
Keeping it Simple
Users of 3D printers require software programs throughout the entire process of a 3D build. These solutions are designed to take the complexity out of AM and provide a nearly error-free workflow. IPM
Mar2021, Industrial Print Magazine