On May 13, 2021, AMC Bridge held an online webinar on “How Software Enables the Industrialization of Additive Manufacturing,” inviting Igor Tsinman, President of AMC Bridge, Jim Brown, President of Tech-Clarity, Igal Kaptsan, General Manager for Software of GE Additive, and Moritz Maier, Co-Founder & Co-CEO of ELISE, to share their insights into the problem and answer questions from the audience.
In this article, we have summarized the discussion highlights, outlining why the panel thinks software is falling behind, its prospects of it catching up with the AM hardware, and why the cloud might be the enabler of future progress.
“From the AMC Bridge perspective, until about 2015-2016, there wasn’t much work requested by the AM industry. Then, in my conversation with industry experts, I started hearing that the stumbling block in the progress of 3D printing was software. Around the same time, we started getting requests from the industry to adjust or modify the existing software and create brand-new modules to better support the unique requirements of the additive manufacturing. The nature of the work we’ve been asked to do in the last couple of years indicates to me that AM is maturing and approaching the industrialization stage,” says Igor Tsinman.
The discussion participants agree that the AM industry is developing at a blistering pace as its hardware—3D printers—becomes more capable of making quality production parts and moves towards becoming a commodity in the not-so-distant future. In fact, some industry leaders plan to have AM fully incorporated into the manufacturing process by the end of the decade. The AM industrialization is undeniably in full sway, and while the hardware base is growing, the supporting software needs to do some catching up.
One of the reasons software is falling behind is overconcentration on geometry. 3D printing process allows for the parts of the same geometrical shape to have different functional characteristics depending on the way they are printed. Therefore, the design should be based on functional rather than purely geometric requirements.
Modern 3D printing allows for the creation of geometric forms that were impossible to manufacture in the past. What is more, generative design tools have made significant progress in creating the forms. However, the tools still require better integration into the existing design and manufacturing workflow.
There is also a problem of accurately predicting the printing output. As Igal Kaptsan points out, some 3D printers offer more than 100 parameters to be tweaked during the manufacturing process, creating infinite variabilities for the output part even if the shape or geometry is the same. At this point, the simulation capabilities are rather inadequate for accommodating the variability: 1 second of the actual process requires more than 10 hours of simulation on a powerful machine.
Overreliance of the design software on mesh technologies and the STL format is another hindering factor, as meshes and STL files have proven insufficient for the current needs.
The complexity and the size of data required for AM have become the glass ceiling for the existing software.
Given the avalanche of data that the AM industry generates, the amount of time required for simulation, and the cost of error at the design stage, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) algorithms may be a way to go for the software industry, as they can capture errors early on and define optimal solutions.
Another technology that is already helping the AM industrialization drive is the cloud. Utilizing the cloud as the underlying infrastructure for AM software solutions opens up nearly unlimited access to the computation and other digital resources that AM needs to analyze and tackle huge amounts of data. The cloud also connects 3D printers to the user community, creating opportunities for wider adoption of AM technologies and industrial utilization of AM.
Even as the printing algorithms become more efficient and reusable, the industry’s dream of the “Print” button that would “magically” transform a designed part into a 3D-printed object one day remains quite elusive.
All webinar participants have agreed that wherever the future developments will take us, it is certain that AM industrialization puts numerous demands on the software industry, and the industry is gearing up to take on the challenge.
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About AMC Bridge
With 20+ years of experience and unmatched industry expertise, AMC Bridge enables digital transformation for clients in the engineering, manufacturing, and AEC industries. We do it by creating custom software solutions that eliminate data silos, connect complex applications, unlock and promote internal innovation, and democratize cutting-edge technologies.