by Melissa Donovan
Software is instrumental in creating effective three-dimensional (3D) builds. When we think of software, the category is vast and includes parts design, solutions that help collaboration efforts, and moves over to additional parts of the workflow like platform management.
Above: Authentise Flows AM offers order intake, production planning, digital parts library, monitoring, quality assurance and reporting, and a rules engine.
“Software will eventually revolutionize manufacturing. The promise of machines that can effectively build what we want them to based on digital signals is already becoming reality. Now it’s software’s turn—with it ideas become manufacturable designs, ensure a quality production, and track the life of a part, influencing future designs. We can reduce the idea-to-part process from years to seconds,” shares Andre Wegner, CEO, Authentise.
Step by Step
The production of a 3D manufactured part is a multi-step process. Software is available to help at every junction.
From data preparation and processing to process management, precise control and reliable monitoring of the build process, and comprehensive connectivity; software covers every step and quality assurance for additive manufacturing (AM), whether for individual production or in a digital factory, according to Jenna Phillips, marketing specialist, EOS North America.
“Every part requires an understanding of upstream and downstream processes to effectively design a part for manufacturability. Each step can utilize specialized software to accomplish that step. Reducing error, creating value, and retaining design-originated features can be preserved as integrations improve between these parts, resulting in a more efficient system,” adds Mark Norfolk, president, Fabrisonic LLC.
For example, 3D Spark’s software evaluates the printability and costs of potential 3D printing applications for different technologies and materials. “Analyzation still prevents many companies from using AM on a larger scale. Alstom, Deutsche Bahn, MetShape, and ZF have shown that this can be automated with 3D Spark, saving Alstom over €1.8 million and over 20,000 days of delivery time. The software facilitates easy access to 3D printing even for untrained personnel, in the process providing an educational boost and helping to identify new applications for the entire AM industry,” explains Ruben Meuth, co-CEO/co-founder, 3D Spark.
Parts design software is important, according to Blake Teipel, Ph.D., CEO, Essentium. “Currently there is a common myth that AM can be used to create any part(s) designed for traditional manufacturing. However, similar to all other manufacturing, the key to success in adopting and deploying AM is to design specifically for the 3D printing process. The combination of generative-design software and step-change improvements in 3D printing technology has led to the creation of never-before-seen next-generation tools.”
“Digital manufacturing cannot exist without 3D modeling software—without a digital model, it’s impossible to print a part. New software solutions help optimize designs for the 3D printing process, but a knowledgeable designer can make excellent designs for AM with standard modeling software. The most promising software development is for simulating sintering deformation, which improves first-shot accuracy of printed and sintered metal parts,” says Skyler Des Roches, head of customer experience, Rapidia Inc.
Florian Rapp, head of development, Multec GmbH, believes that “‘slicers’ are the most important part of the software chain, since they convert the 3D model to a printing strategy and the final part. The slicer must allow adoption of the process settings to the model and its requirements.”
Software solutions that monitor the build process are advantageous. “Quality issues have plagued 3D printing. Many problems or challenges with 3D printing come from in-process errors that software catches and fixes in a closed loop cycle. Sigma Labs is a great example of monitoring software that improves the quality of powder bed fusion prints,” shares Matt Sand, president/co-founder, 3DEO.
The security element of AM is also handled with the help of software. “On its route from an original idea to a finished object, many people and companies contribute to the AM process. It first begins with the design of a digital object that represents or contains the intellectual property of its maker. In many cases, that object is only one part of a finished product assembled by another agent in that process—an integrator or, potentially, vendor. In many cases, the actual 3D printing is handled by a local service provider to save costs. At each step, intellectual property needs to be protected against theft and piracy, but still be available for legitimate agents to use, process, and reprocess. Who is allowed to access the designs—when, where, and how often? A system is needed to protect the underlying data and to monetize the act of printing a third-party design,” explains Tom Ricci, marketing consultant, Wibu-Systems.
Wibu-Systems’ solution protects intellectual property and manages the printing licensing process. The company’s CodeMeter technology uses cryptographic processes to encrypt digital intellectual property and create licenses for the protected intellectual property with easy integration with existing process chains.
“Reliable software is critical to the effectiveness and timeliness of the 3D printing process,” assertsBálint Horváth, software product manager, Formlabs. “Without dependable and precise software, products will not be printed consistently or correctly, which increases overall project and printing time and the costs of materials used.”
Automated software solutions are important in today’s market. “Plagued with uncertainty and supply chain issues, 3D printing technology shores up supply chains by enabling scalable mass production for both short- and long-term solutions. The technology has the capability to react to near instant changes. The value of 3D printing also reduces reliance on manual labor and allows for complex and important parts to be rapidly produced,” explains Meaghan Ferris, global head of 3D metals go-to-market and business development, HP Personalization and 3D Printing.
“If 3D printing needs to move from art and artisan to method and mass production, automation must come into the picture. More information is needed here to get the job done right.
Design/workflow and process simulation software will uncover the challenges that only the expert or artisan could discern, so that lesser humans can achieve similar, if not equivalent results,” asserts Dr. Rashid Miraj, director of technical operations, AlphaSTAR Technology Solutions.
A recent trend in software includes artificial intelligence (AI). “3D printing is the perfect technology partner to consider with Smart Factories in which many laborious tasks are done with robots and production is driven by machine learning and AI. The obvious importance of this is that it pushes the technology to the very edge of what is possible with human hands and human minds and allows advanced intelligence to help us. It’s a step towards the future, rather than using obsolete techniques that take us backwards,” shares Dr. Eliana Fu, industry manager: aerospace & medical, TRUMPF Inc.
“Until now, 3D printing production was limited by operator intervention, requiring users to remove complete printed parts, change resin cartridges, and set new printing jobs manually,” notes Horváth.
Stay Open Minded
Systems that communicate well with each other foster collaborative environments. AM is inherently deemed flexible, so it is no surprise that the software used with it be flexible as well. Open source solutions can provide this.
Open source provides full control, according to Rapp. “With non-open source software you are always depending on the publisher of the software. If you have a feature request that could improve the process and lead to better parts there is not a lot you can do. With open source on the other hand you can adapt the software to do exactly what you want, need, or expect.”
“I like the idea of open source, as it’s more collaborative. Some people like to be able to jump into problems and tear them apart from the inside out. That kind of creativity thrives better in an open source type of environment,” says Fu.
While open source is not a requirement, it certainly is beneficial. “I see a number of customers doing incredible things with Blender, which is fully open source. In some respects the mesh-based engine these kinds of programs run on are better aligned with freedom of shape that’s possible with 3D printing—compared to traditional solid based CAD,” explains Jasper Bouwmeester, CEO, Fiberneering.
Specifically in terms of AM, “it’s more important that we focus on open technologies—those that allow simple integration by API—because the end-to-end value chain of turning an idea into a part will require many software tools to work together. We need the suction of profit to bring more entrepreneurs to the software market to deliver improved tools. Focusing too much on open source may undermine that,” says Wegner.
For someone undecided on implementing 3D workflow solutions the benefits are apparent almost right away. With the help of return on investment (ROI) assessments, it is easy to see how favorable automation and AM are in comparison to conventional manufacturing methods.
According to Miraj, frequent use or use with complex builds increases the value and necessity of the software. “The future of 3D printing involves more sophisticated materials, complex geometries, greater number of parts, and more opportunities for failure. The cost of machines, materials, and personnel demand methods to increase efficiency and productivity. Design/workflow and process simulation software can address most of those concerns and ultimately reduce costs.”
“Implementing 3D workflow solutions can increase business’ demanding and unique needs by providing a quick, affordable solution. All workflow solutions can be designed and managed in house to speed up the workflow from idea inception to an end-use product,” says Horváth.
Advantages to look for in 3D software include smooth integration into existing CAD/CAM and simulation environments, intuitive usability, effective monitoring, real-time availability, transfer of production data, and compatibility with many other systems, according to Phillips.
Of course, certain solutions are not a fit for everyone. “There needs to be a clear reason to adopt a new technology. The best way to ensure that a solution is worth pursuing is a clear understanding of the ROI. Typically this ROI calculation requires a good technical understanding of the process as well as the needs of the business,” suggests Chase D. Cox, VP, MELD Manufacturing Corporation.
Initial ROI comes from efficiency, specifically faster quoting, fewer wasted resources and failed builds, and reduced meeting schedules, lists Wegner. “But the true ROI is felt down the line when the data collected from the digital thread helps operations become more resilient, deliver insight that can yield a competitive advantage with the help of AI and machine learning, and captures tribal knowledge.”
“The first step before entering and thus investing in AM should always be a potential assessment with regard to costs—ROI, technical printability, delivery time savings, and sustainability on the basis of one’s range of components,” notes Meuth.
Rapp suggests that, “from a financial point of view just take a few use cases of that person and do the calculation for different manufacturing processes. Chances are AM is less expensive and faster than any conventional production process.”
“The more information you can give someone the better their informed final decision will be,” agrees Fu.
“As technology continues to improve, the solutions will be even more capable of applying data and digital technologies, and the entire end-to-end lifecycle will be further streamlined and accelerated as a result of implementing 3D software and solutions,” foresees Ferris.
Automation software is designed to increase efficiencies at every part of the AM process. As 3D printing becomes more sophisticated, the value of automation software subsequently grows.
“There is a need to develop solutions that make the process from creation to production of finished parts increasingly efficient, with rapid response to various configurations of production systems. This is from a technical point of view, as well as from a business and environmental perspective,” notes Ilaria Guicciardini, head of marketing, Roboze.
Learn more about 3D printing in our most recent webinar, accessible at industrialprintmagazine.com/webinars.
Apr2023, Industrial Print Magazine