Industry has been using conventional processes of forging, casting, and machining to manufacture objects for decades. Additive manufacturing, also known as 3D printing, offers a technologically-advanced approach to creating manufacturing parts and components. It has proved to be a dynamic contrast to traditional economies-of-scale production in numerous industries and products.
But how does 3D printing work?
Digital models are produced via computer-generated designs by the consolidation of materials such as metals, ceramics, polymers, plastics, etc. with an energy source. Electron beams, lasers, or binders then solidify the material, which is directed along a build path or scanned over a pre-placed layer of material, allowing complex shapes to develop easily and giving rise to enormous design possibilities. It further allows custom-built products, rapid prototyping, and the building of highly personalized products, reducing transport needs, saving time, and cutting costs.
Though issues of digital piracy, expensive equipment, and knowledge gap loom largely over 3D printing, companies like GM, BMW, Ford, Nike, and Boeing have already implemented the technique in the production of their products, swiftly making its use more mainstream. This article focuses on three of the best software solutions to kick-start 3D printing in factories.
1. AI-powered simplification of the pre-printing process
One of the key barriers to implementing 3D printing lies not in the printing itself but in the pre-printing process. It is often time-consuming and involves repetitive tasks. This results in high labour costs as well as a high likelihood of failure. Preflighting files for 3D printing also requires a certain level of expertise. Israeli start-up PrintSyst aims to simplify the pre-printing process with their proprietary AI engine.
The 3DP AI-Perfecter™ offers AI-assisted automation of part manufacturability verification, greatly simplifying and speeding up the process. The algorithm automatically analyses parts and selects the best parameters for additive manufacturing. It also corrects performance issues, ensuring a satisfactory outcome, and eliminating the need for costly trial-and-error. This means that any operator has the capacity to learn; no special expertise is required. Along with usability analysis, precise cost estimation is performed based on part functionality, facilitating informed decision making.
2. Decision support software
Without the right data and tools, it can be difficult to decide whether to opt for traditional manufacturing methods, such as CNC and injection moulding, or additive manufacturing. There are many different aspects to consider, including the cost, materials, and feasibility. As mentioned already above, technical expertise is often required to make such decisions. However, innovative technological solutions can make such work easier. Enter decision support software from CASTOR, another Israeli start-up. The software is specifically aimed at high-tech industrial machinery manufacturers who wish to begin utilising 3D printing in their production.
This is how it works: CAD files are uploaded and analysed, and a report on part printability is quickly generated. The software offers support with regard to three key aspects of a decision about an analysed part: geometry, cost, and materials. Accurate break-even point calculation allows manufacturers to decide whether additive manufacturing or traditional manufacturing would yield more economic benefits. Feedback on recommended materials and printers is also supplied. The detailed results can be used to optimise in-house printing facilities or for delivery to a suggested 3D service bureau. Stanley Black & Decker, a leading manufacturer of industrial tools, used CASTOR’s software to determine which of their parts might be worth 3D printing. Following the analysis, their wire lifter was identified as a good option. Consequently, the cost of the part was halved, and lead time was reduced from 8 weeks to 9 days.
3. Rapid design iteration with generative design software
In order to fully reap the benefits of additive manufacturing, a sound design process is essential. The flexibility of 3D printing means that complex yet cost-efficient designs are possible. However, engineers often need to spend a lot of time creating unique designs, adjusting parameters and optimising designs for additive manufacturing. Generative design is an explorative design process with the potential to revolutionise part design. Based on artificial intelligence and principles of nature, it automatically generates thousands of optimal solutions when fed with constraints.
Massachusetts-based start-up Desktop Metal is currently offering a free trial of Live Parts™, a generative design tool specifically for 3D printing. In order to develop this software, they partnered up with SolidWorks creator Dassault Systèmes. The tool works as follows: The user inputs their constraints, watches the part “grow” in real-time as parameters are adjusted and when finalised, exports it for 3D printing. The software runs in the cloud on NVIDIA GPU-accelerated virtual machines. Fast design iterations save time and lead to robust yet lightweight metal parts that are responsive to dynamic environments. Designs are optimised through advanced multi-physics simulation and validated by integrated, high-fidelity FEA.
In the current pandemic, 3D printing has gained even more attraction. Additive manufacturing could steer businesses out of slow production via quick custom-made elements while also saving the costs of procuring missing parts. With these technological solutions at your disposal, you have can confidently kick-start 3D printing in your production environment, and these tools only scratch the surface. As long as interest and innovation in the realm of additive manufacturing continue to thrive, one can only wonder what other solutions will be developed to make it more accessible and efficient to all.
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