Additive manufacturing has matured to the point where software is becoming key to further adoption. An interview with Radhika Krishnan, Executive Vice President, Software Healthcare and Digitization at 3D Systems offers insight into developments in software as additive manufacturing becomes part of a hybrid manufacturing environment.
As many designers know, to additively make a part, you need a CAD file that can be converted to an STL, or similar file format. Then, steps are needed to ensure the design is optimized for printing. These steps involve optimizing the structure to align with the specifications, simulating the build, and other types of optimizing to ensure a quality build.
For nearly all of these processes, software is essential. It enables additive printing or additive manufacturing to deliver on its value proposition. The right software enables users to print closer to the specification.
There are a variety of value propositions that software delivers. Many programs for additive systems will import data from any format; CAD, mesh, and so on. These programs ensure a design’s CAD integrity is maintained and that the design is printable. Some programs also offer time analysis, automated best fit positioning, and visualization.
Some programs will, for example, compensate for shrinkage by applying scaling. Said, Radhika Krishnan, Executive Vice President, Software Healthcare and Digitization at 3D Systems, “We know for a fact that during the build process there is some amount of part shrinkage that is likely to occur. So, programs should compensate for that part shrinkage.”
3D Systems offers programs on optimizing the structure of an additive part. These programs look at surface texturing, flexible automation, lattice-based optimization, and so on. Support requirements are analyzed and there are toolsets that allow designers to fragment a design and offer support.
Build simulation is another feature in 3D Systems software. This feature helps designers predict fails that might occur with the design, and fails that might damage the printer. “That’s a very important feature,” noted Krishnan. “If you’ve ever walked into a machine shop, you know for a fact this is something a printer owner worries about. So. this is something that we do as part of the software. And it catches defects early in the additive process. You’re not waiting on the actual product to get printed before figuring out that something could be awry.
“We use scan fab calculations where we use geometry to figure it out how to increase throughput while maintaining print quality. We now have a way where we can offload some of our calculations. So, it allows us to shorten the calculation time.”
Krishnan sees the additive industry “going hybrid.” “Additive processes and subtractive processes will need to coexist. So from that standpoint, we see the need to have end-to-end automation that allows you to combine additive and subtractive processes. And automated to the extent that you can. This was definitely an area that we’re putting a lot of focus into.”
Overall, the goal is to ensure that a print is to specification.
Noted Krishnan, “A lot of what we do today is building a platform-oriented approach. A lot of our customers are very well aware of the software features we provide on the additive side. The lesser-known fact might be that we have a very strong subtractive portfolio as well with our Cimatron and GibbsCAM products. And so our focus essentially has been to build this platform-oriented approach that allows users to take advantage of both [subtractive and additive]. And be able to bridge data between the two.”
Simulation will play a role in software for additive applications. “Simulation helps with end-to-end fail predictions,” adds Krishnan. “It allows you to apply corrections more easily. It allows you to detect defects early on. And it also allows you to come up with compensated models. For example, if you’re going to have deviations because of material properties, simulation helps you address that upfront. So definitely simulations will be a very big part in all of this.”
Virtual reality may also play a role in additive manufacturing.
“Design for additive is a new domain,” adds Krishnan. “And therefore, becoming more familiar with what it takes to design for additive manufacturing is probably the critical thing that can define CAD engineers that are focused on making the transition to additive manufacturing need to be cognizant of. We have a design for additive manufacturing for SOLIDWORKS customers, which helps them optimize their output for additives printing. And so, it’s basically being able to provide that bridge.”
Finally, Krishnan noted: Additive manufacturing, especially the software supporting additive manufacturing, has come a long way. The technology and the software have matured quite a bit in recent years, .… we’re pretty well evolved at this point to where this should not be a difficult transition to move to additive manufacturing.