Automating design for additive manufacturing
A significant part of designing for additive manufacturing (DfAM) remains manual. Even a skilled engineer can spend from 30 minutes to a few hours on a new part understanding the best orientation, technology and material.
For manufacturers looking to adopt AM for hundreds of parts, it could cost tens of thousands of dollars in engineering time over a year just to determine whether and how to 3D print each one.
AM software companies are approaching this challenge in several ways to simplify the design stage and advance AM to a scalable technology.
For example, Ntopology’s nTop software offers reusable design workflows, whereas certain repetitive tasks, like creating lattice structure or adding serial numbers, can be automated.
In further efforts to understand the viability of designs, PrintSyst developed an AI-based tool that allows engineers to assess STL files and get insight into suitable processes, appropriate materials, and anticipated cost. A result is a tool that allows engineers to make quick, easy and accurate decisions about 3D printing.
However, for more complex applications, like composite or metal parts, simple file assessment may not be enough.
This is where simulation software comes in, allowing engineers to model the printing process and predict the effects of different parameters on the material properties. This approach saves time and cost associated with trial-and-error build modelling.
That said, simulating the AM build can require significant computational resources, although some software providers aim to overcome this hurdle by connecting their design and engineering tools to the cloud, offloading intense calculations.
But the ultimate development that is opening the door for streamlined DfAM is interoperability and connectivity across different design and simulation tools.
That’s why we’re witnessing more and more partnerships between smaller software companies, while bigger players work on bundling their offerings under one solution. For example, Autodesk has been folding its suite of Netfabb tools for 3D printing into its Fusion 360 suite and has also recently announced the addition of a simulation extension.
This trend falls into the bigger movement of creating a connected digital thread, where data flows easily across the design, production and post-processing stages. And this brings us to the next exciting development of digitised additive production management.