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AM Workflow Automation
Concept Laser's Factory of the Future concept

AM Industry Leaders Discuss the Future of 3D Printing Automation for Production

Welcome to 3DPMN’s latest major appointment with AM sector leaders discussing some of the most important issues that will define the future of 3D printing. This time — as part of our Industry Focus this month — we are looking at 3D printing automation, something that many have identified as one of the single biggest evolution of 3D printing: the integration of 3D printers — through AM hardware and software — into fully automated production lines.

In their recent Markets for Automated 3D Printing report, our partners at SmarTech Publishing have quantified the potential opportunity for automation of AM in a business that will amount to over $11 billion in yearly sales by 2027 (see the forecast chart). This will include several areas such as automation-ready AM hardware (for both metals and polymers), MES, simulation and networking software, automated post-processing equipment as well as electronic components and yes, lots of robots.

Because our main focus is the AM industry, this expert roundup includes representatives from some of the largest and most innovative system manufacturers, along with AM process software publishers (thus excluding CAD, CAM and CAE). What clearly emerges from these contributions is that every major AM company is focused on further automating the AM process and making sure that their systems are no longer “stand-alone” prototyping devices as much as they are becoming the heart of the fully automated AM production cell in the factory of tomorrow.

The fully automated factory in this article’s featured image (top of the page) is a clear indication of this major trend. It was first illustrated by Concept Laser (now part of GE Additive) in its Factory of Tomorrow vision in 2015 and subsequently picked up by EOS and 3D Systems as well. Indeed, GE has confirmed their focus on process automation to 3DPMN many times. The same is true of another giant: HP. Ever since introducing its MJF production system, HP has paid close attention to optimizing and automating the entire part production process by offering a highly automated post-processing station. Even a smaller hardware manufacturer like DWS; that has always anticipated major trends, designed and developed a fully automated SLA production cell in its newest XCELL system.

In fact — along with other elements such as inspection/3D scanning hardware and robotic systems — post-processing equipment and material handling/powder sieving equipment are key elements in automating the AM production line. Companies like US-based PostProcess Technologies, Farleygreene and Dye Mansion have embraced this concept. They are enabling their post-production systems to independently complete tasks such as automated material supply, support removal, powder removal, and part cleaning, part finishing and part coloring.

Often, the youngest companies in AM, like Ultimaker and Formlabs, have the clearest vision and newest ideas for automating the entire AM process workflow. On how to integrate post-processing units in a Form Cell 3D printing farm. Or on how to go from CAD to CAM and from ERP to PLM through MES.

All these tasks are increasingly coordinated by MES (manufacturing execution software), such as the solutions provided by Authentise, 3DPrinterOS and — of course — 3D manufacturing software leaders Materialise, with their Streamics platform. These systems need to coordinate multiple hardware including robotic systems, inspection and 3D scanning systems, post-processing hardware and multiple 3D printers. For this to occur, simulation and process monitoring software, such as those provided by segment leader ANSYS and newly acquired 3DSIM, need to be optimally integrated and coordinated in the manufacturing execution process.

In the article below, experts on automation for AM give us their take on this exciting sector. Click to jump to an expert:

 

Metals 3D Printers


3D Systems automation expert Deniz Okur

1. How do your systems integrate into a full production workflow?

1. How do your systems integrate into a full production workflow?

“3D Systems can offer a fully integrated solution for metal 3D printing comprised of dedicated software, hardware and materials. This includes 3DXpert all-in-one software, which is used to prepare, simulate and print quality metal parts. This software not only streamlines the metal 3D printing process but can also steer complimentary processes like CNC for a hybrid metal production approach. As a result, DMP (Direct Metal Printing) solutions come with extensively developed print parameter databases for powder-based LaserForm metal materials including titanium, aluminum alloy, nickel alloy, cobalt chrome, and stainless steel. There is no one size fits all production workflow. Therefore, for example, our DMP 8500 Factory Solution is designed to be truly modular so that it can be configured to meet the specific workflow at a customer site and maximize capital utilization of each module.”

2. What can metal 3D printer manufacturers do to further automate the production process?

2. What can metal 3D printer manufacturers do to further automate the production process?

“Metal 3D printer manufactures can provide stronger modularity and automate 3D printing sub-processes such as automated powder removal, heat treatment and part removal. All modules need to be designed to accommodate automation, not just the printer itself. This also includes providing the dataset for integration into industry 4.0.”

3D Systems 3D printing automation solution
3D System’s Factory of the Future concept

3. How do you envision 3D printing integration into the fully automated production workflow?

3. How do you envision 3D printing integration into the fully automated production workflow?

“We envision full integration into the fully automated production workflow through our recently announced DMP 8500 Factory Solution which is explained in this video. Available in H2 2018, this next generation platform is designed to allow manufacturers to easily integrate metal additive manufacturing into the factory floor and scale up production according to demands. It features an efficient and fully integrated workflow to produce repeatable, high-quality parts with a lower total cost of operation (TCO). True modularity is key in this concept and guarantees maximum capital utilization. Each function-specific module within the DMP 8500 Factory solution is fully integrated with a Removable Print Module (RPM) which is vacuum sealable for a controlled print environment and engineered to move between printer and powder modules for a continuous production workflow. Printer modules are designed for ongoing, 24/7 printing of parts. Powder Management Modules (PMMs) are designed to efficiently de-powder parts on build platforms and automatically recycle unused powder materials to prepare the RPM for the next build.”

4. Why do you think it is important to automate the metal AM production workflow?

4. Why do you think it is important to automate the metal AM production workflow?

“The industry is at a point, where more and more companies have tested and qualified parts for volume production in metal AM. In order to make metal AM a competitive manufacturing solution, cost per part and the amount of manual work in the entire process, which is still particularly high compared to other metal manufacturing technologies, needs to come down. It is important to automate the workflow in order to reduce operational costs, to be able to scale up to larger volume production and to ensure accurate repeatable results from part to part, from printer to printer.”

5. Which are the biggest challenges that need to be overcome?

5. Which are the biggest challenges that need to be overcome?

“In general, the biggest challenges for metal 3D printing suppliers consist in developing concepts where cost per part justifies production scale-up. In addition, it is necessary to be able to produce parts that are both high quality and repeatable. Finally, we need product integration with automated equipment as part of a fully automated workflow.”


Additive Industries automation expert Daan A.J. Kersten

1. How do your systems integrate into a full production workflow?

1. How do your systems integrate into a full production workflow?

“Additive Industries’ MetalFAB1 systems are designed for fully automated production. The unique modular architecture is designed for full integration of various post-processing steps like stress relief heat-treatment and product removal in line with the laser-based metal powder bed fusion MetalFAB1 system. Also, the accompanying Additive World software Platform is prepared for seamless integration with the customer’s factory control systems.”

2. What can metal 3D printer manufacturers do to further automate the production process?

2. What can metal 3D printer manufacturers do to further automate the production process?

“Additive Industries is working continuously to integrate more process steps into its workflow. Partially these will be included as an additional functional module in the MetalFAB1 system, others will be flexibly linked through a more generic interface like an AGV [Automated Guided Systems].”

3. How do you envision 3D printing integration into the fully automated production workflow?

3. How do you envision 3D printing integration into the fully automated production workflow?

“Key to integration in a fully automated workflow are predictable processes and reproducible product quality. Additive Industries has focused its process design on these from the start. Inline calibration plays a vital role to not only verify but also automatically correct offsets that occur during the process.”
Additive Industries 3D printing automation solution

4. Why do you think it is important to automate the metal AM production workflow?

4. Why do you think it is important to automate the metal AM production workflow?

“Only when fully automated, metal AM is a serious new production technology that can compete both on cost per part and quality with other production technologies like machining, casting, forging etc. Additive Industries has demonstrated its current MetalFAB1 systems have the lowest cost per part of the industry (approximately 40-50% lower than typical mid-range AM systems) but in order to further grow the acceptance in the manufacturing industry, the cost will need to go down further. Additive Industries together with its partners, for example, material suppliers, is aiming for another similar reduction in the coming years.”

5. Which are the biggest challenges that need to be overcome?

5. Which are the biggest challenges that need to be overcome?

“The biggest challenges for the AM industry are found in the design phase. Most design engineers have not yet hands-on experience with (metal) AM. Only when we train them to use the advantages of AM to its fullest extent, we will see a broader adoption of this technology in regular production.”

Plastics 3D Printers


HP automation expert Luis Baldez

1. How do your systems integrate into a full production workflow?

1. How do your systems integrate into a full production workflow?

“HP has strong partnerships with some of the leading production workflows companies in the world including Siemens, SAP, Autodesk and Materialise. We provide APIs to these software packages so customers can develop and manage all HP 3D printing projects within their existing production workflow. Today these APIs provide a way to submit jobs and track device and job status in real time.”

2. What can polymer 3D printer manufacturers do to further automate the production process?

2. What can polymer 3D printer manufacturers do to further automate the production process?

“HP’s Jet Fusion 3D Processing Station helps automate manual tasks like loading and mixing materials, cooling and unpacking printed parts, and cleaning parts to improve overall productivity. And HP’s newly-launched Jet Fusion 300/500 Series full-color 3D printers feature an enhanced workflow solution and the world’s first integrated and automated materials delivery system, enabling greater unattended operation, ease of use, and dramatically increasing production efficiency and output. We’re always looking for new ways to automate and digitize tasks to further improve the performance of Jet Fusion systems. The ultimate goal is that it all works at the push of a button, much like HP 2D printers.”

3. How do you envision 3D printing integration into a fully automated production workflow?

3. How do you envision 3D printing integration into a fully automated production workflow?

“A fully-automated 3D production workflow requires smart, connected, always-on devices that work collaboratively to deliver the expected customer outcomes. To achieve that goal, a range of disruptive new technologies like advanced robotics, internet of things, big data analytics and artificial intelligence need to be seamlessly integrated with 3D printers. In this scenario, customers will be able to specify their expected outcomes in terms of product quality, speed and cost, and the system will be able to define and schedule the work required at all stages of the workflow. Real-time data from each device will be captured and analyzed to optimize the production outcome. And changes in demand or product definition will drive immediate reconfiguration of the production assets, even if they are located in distributed locations.”

HP 3D printing automation solution

4. Why do you think it has become important to automate the polymer AM production workflow?

4. Why do you think it has become important to automate the polymer AM production workflow?

“The speed and quality of 3D printing was raised dramatically when HP introduced its Jet Fusion 3D 4200 printer, which produces 10x faster than other 3D printers at half the cost. With performance increases that big, if you don’t automate the rest of the workflow to match, both upstream and downstream from the 3D printer, those things will become the bottleneck of your production.”

5. Which are the biggest challenges that need to be overcome in order to achieve full automation of the polymer AM process?

5. Which are the biggest challenges that need to be overcome in order to achieve full automation of the polymer AM process?

“Overall system performance needs to increase to keep up with accelerating 3D printing capabilities. In addition, advancements in robotics that can seamlessly automate the physical handoff from one step of the workflow to the next. Finally, interoperability between hardware, software and data interfaces.”


Stratasys automation expert Eric Bredin

1. How do your systems integrate into a full production workflow?

1. How do your systems integrate into a full production workflow?

“First, let’s look at the different areas into which additive manufacturing can integrate. It is important to note that there are differences between using the technology for modeling, rapid prototyping, tooling and manufacturing. For modeling and prototyping, it is critical that a physical part can be produced quickly, whilst simultaneously allowing for multiple design iterations and functional testing before settling on the final design. The way we look at the integration of these applications is to offer the simplest workflow from the CAD design to physical print. Traditionally, physical labour is required to convert the design file into an STL file, and a specialized software is needed to predict if the print will run without a hitch. We’ve developed our software, GrabCAD Print, to provide solutions that enable the designers to automatically drop the CAD file into the printer tray without a STL conversion. Be it a single printer or eventually a fleet of different printers connected via the internet, designers can assign jobs to a specific unit loaded with a material type that fits the application. When it comes to functional prototypes, we also collaborate with software editors that integrate the features of your printing technology up to the level of the CAD software. This helps to automatically assign the properties of specific geometry element of a part – i.e. color, transparencies and shore values. Then this software will send the file straight to the printer and produce the part according to the design specification. Prior to this, or, once the STL file has been generated by the CAD file, the specific geometry of the part would need to be reassigned manually in a separate software specific to the printer. When it comes to tooling or manufacturing the process that any additive manufacturing technology enables is to make sure the design is optimized for the functionality of the part. We are working with strategic partners to collaborate and streamline the workflow of design to print. By ensuring at the design stage that the combined properties of the material and printer is understood and can influence in the most seamless way, the design of the part. For example, the stronger the material, the thinner the part needs to be to be functional. Using design optimization, FEA software offers the capacity to simulate the properties of the parts, and ultimately design a part with the best possible functionality, i.e. the optimum weight to stiffness ratio.”

2. What can polymer 3D printer manufacturers do to further automate the production process?

2. What can polymer 3D printer manufacturers do to further automate the production process?

“We offer solutions that help manufacturers to better understand the benefits of AM. It is also critical to develop content to train and optimize the use of software in combination with 3D Printing is vital. It is critical for the companies to understand how it can influence their business, from offering more innovation to being more adaptable to change, and sub-segment the design to specific markets. Training and adoption is also critical for the development of use case in companies who want to benefit from the technology. It is also very important to create focus groups with people who can bring complementary skills and knowledge. By combining people with various skill sets, from people who can think and execute design for tooling to those who are familiar with materials and machine processes, the team can then create new ideas. Then together they can reinvent for a more effective use of AM for their own product. By re-thinking the design, we can make it simpler, faster, and more efficient.”

3. How do you envision 3D printing integration into a fully automated production workflow?

3. How do you envision 3D printing integration into a fully automated production workflow?

“The best possible way is to showcase how in a manufacturing plant, hybrid technologies can work together to create a seamless workflow, both for long production runs with more conventional manufacturing and short run production with customization using AM technologies. This means ongoing development work with our strategic partners to develop new technology that meets their complex demands, like the one we have with Siemens when developing our Robotic Composite 3D demonstrator. These conversations allow us to create a solution with a high level of integration. We are also working on minimizing manual intervention, an issue we are already addressing with our Continuous Build 3D Demonstrator. This shows how a multiple and expandable bay of 3D Printers can receive files from the cloud, automatically load jobs to available printers, creating the 3D printed part without human intervention and offering the capacity to monitor the production remotely from your smartphone. A remarkable example of what future distributed manufacturing will look like.”

Stratasys 3D printing automation solution

4. Why do you think it has become important to automate the polymer AM production workflow?

4. Why do you think it has become important to automate the polymer AM production workflow?

“Most of the applications already mentioned stem from the same challenges. Companies need to stay competitive in a global market if they are to thrive and develop. To achieve this, companies need to be more competitive and innovative in their local markets. We are moving away from the one size fits all concept. This means more unique and complex designs to create, and shorter runs to produce. To be a leader, they must be as fast as possible in their market. So, speed is critical. Shorter production runs mean you must challenge manufacturing processes to be more cost effective, otherwise, the production cost per product will rise and you will lose profitability or against competition on price. Both are very common benefits of 3D Printing. Faster prototypes, better simulation of the final product, less tooling required, faster production of tooling and better cost efficiencies for small quantities.”

5. Which are the biggest challenges that need to be overcome in order to achieve full automation of the polymer AM process?

5. Which are the biggest challenges that need to be overcome in order to achieve full automation of the polymer AM process?

“We still need to ensure that the capabilities of our software and that of our strategic partners are fully taken advantage of. We need to bring all these capabilities together and giving the user the ability to access multiple technologies from a single point, whether we are looking at additive manufacturing or conventional manufacturing.”


DWS automation expert Daniel Elber

1. How do your systems integrate into a full production workflow?

1. How do your systems integrate into a full production workflow?

“The software can be used remotely, so the printers may be located directly in the factory and controlled from a central workstation; we offer two software, one to prepare the file and one to operate the printer, in this way it’s possible to prepare the file during a previous printing of another file without interfering with the printing.”

2. What can polymer 3D printer manufacturers do to further automate the production process?

2. What can polymer 3D printer manufacturers do to further automate the production process?

“We are launching the XCELL, a system that integrates printing and post-processing, the operator is free from the tradition manual finishing like washing and prepare the UV hardening [SLA technology]”

DWS 3D printing automation solution

3. How do you envision 3D printing integration into a fully automated production workflow?

3. How do you envision 3D printing integration into a fully automated production workflow?

“The XCELL is the perfect example, also the high resolution achieved by our systems limits the necessity of polishing the pieces, obtaining a final ready to use part.”

4. Why do you think it has become important to automate the polymer AM production workflow?

4. Why do you think it has become important to automate the polymer AM production workflow?

“AM needs to be intended as a standard production method more and more, automation would come as a natural consequence.”

5. Which are the biggest challenges that need to be overcome in order to achieve full automation of the polymer AM process?

5. Which are the biggest challenges that need to be overcome in order to achieve full automation of the polymer AM process?

“Long lasting materials with mechanical properties of traditional plastics.”


Ultimaker automation expert Paul Heiden

1. How do your systems integrate into a full production workflow?

1. How do your systems integrate into a full production workflow?

“Looking closer, you’ll find two workflows: one model related, the other material related. During design, a 3D printing workflow is dominated by CAD software, as well as other software, such as (CT) scan rendering software. In production, product lifecycle management software often provides the repository for models. We have a unique starting point with Ultimaker Cura – our print preparation software. By ensuring seamless integration with many CAD and PLM systems through so-called ‘plugins’, the step from design to print is radically simplified. To that end, we will introduce a marketplace for Ultimaker Cura, allowing millions of users to download the plugins they specifically need. The material workflow revolves around finding the right settings for each material. Each material requires specific parameters, such as speed or temperature. All in all, you need to configure over 250 settings to ensure that the print you start is actually delivered the next morning. Ultimaker’s biggest contribution to reliable 3D printing is the provision of print profiles for each material. Making your own material profiles can easily take months. We will offer them for Ultimaker out of the box as an integral part of Ultimaker Cura.”

2. What can polymer 3D printer manufacturers do to further automate the production process?

2. What can polymer 3D printer manufacturers do to further automate the production process?

“Probably the biggest leap will be the integration between CAD and print preparation software. Eventually, Ultimaker Cura should be able to give real-time feedback to designers about whether a design can be successfully 3D printed. 3D printing simulation during design will significantly improve not only the print results but also the adoption of 3D printing; for instance, in tool and spare part production.”

Ultimaker Print Factory

3. How do you envision 3D printing integration into a fully automated production workflow?

3. How do you envision 3D printing integration into a fully automated production workflow?

“We can easily imagine small production orders out of an ERP [Enterprise Resource Planning] system, triggering the release of an instruction from a PLM [Produce Lifecycle Management] system containing a model, toolpath, and material, enabling the printer to directly print with the right material, the right print settings, and intermediate print accuracy validation.”

4. Why do you think it has become important to automate the polymer AM production workflow?

4. Why do you think it has become important to automate the polymer AM production workflow?

“Not automating implies making people do things you don’t want them to do, such as working for months on print profiles for some material; clumsy workflows from design to print preparation, causing data loss; searching for models and toolpath instructions time and time again, or even needing to start again because the model could not be found. Worst of all, too much human interference causes a decline in print reliability. It’s pretty bad if you push the print button in the evening, only to end up with a handful of plastic spaghetti the next morning.”

5. Which are the biggest challenges that need to be overcome in order to achieve full automation of the polymer AM process?

5. Which are the biggest challenges that need to be overcome in order to achieve full automation of the polymer AM process?

“I think in only 1% of the cases where 3D printing could have been used, it is actually used. It’s all about taking away all the barriers to adoption. Creating an ecosystem around 3D printing is key – one where software and material vendors can easily align their propositions. With Ultimaker Cura providing by far the biggest installed base in print preparation software, with more than 2 million users, and a truly open and supported material strategy, such an ecosystem will develop around Ultimaker.”


Formlabs automation expert Jenni Milne

1. How do your systems integrate into a full production workflow?

1. How do your systems integrate into a full production workflow?

“We built our products to integrate seamlessly with a production workflow; whatever stage you are at. We have solutions for fully digital production workflows if you are running multiple printers 24/7 and we support hybrid production workflows, where you might use 3D printing for part of the process but retain aspects of a traditional workflow. This is how a lot of companies start their digital transformation; it can minimize disruption and is easy to iterate on and then scale. Full production often means direct printing end-use parts. Our dental customers have been direct printing biocompatible surgical guides which have been used in more than 50,000 surgeries. Hybrid production might mean printing a master in Castable resin for a custom engagement ring which is used in an investment casting process, or printing a thin shell mold in our Clear resin to produce a custom silicone earbud, and finally in engineering, we have some great examples like Pankl who are producing custom jigs and fixtures at large volumes to support their custom gearbox manufacturing process. Formlabs has always been focused on designing an end to end process for SLA that includes print preparation software, an online dashboard, automatic support generation, and a simple finishing process. This focus on end-to-end ease of use has made our products easy to automate and integrate. In June of 2017, we announced Form Wash and Form Cure, our automated washing and curing solutions. With these new products, we could take a bank of Form 2 printers and develop Form Cell – a fully automated production solution for direct 3D printing parts.”

2. What can polymer 3D printer manufacturers do to further automate the production process?

2. What can polymer 3D printer manufacturers do to further automate the production process?

“The ability to automate is tied to how thoughtfully you design the software to handle print setup and job management, as well as how you treat and move through the finishing process. PreForm, our free print preparation software has a ‘one click print’ button, which will automatically orient, support, and position your STL. Our online dashboard allows you to track prints and manage multiple printers online – it can even send you a text message when your print has finished. These features, which make sense from an ease of use standpoint for our customers, are also easy to automate. Formlabs develops software, hardware and materials in-house, and so we are in a unique position to ensure that all our systems talk to each other and integrate well. We have a number of software integrations with popular CAD programs – moving towards a future where you can print to ‘Form 2’ from within the CAD environment. Labor comes into play once the print is finished – so steps to minimize cleanup and support removal are critical. With Form Wash and Cure, you can set the time and walk away, and the Form Cell can move a build platform through that entire process.”

Formlabs 3D printing automation solution

3. How do you envision 3D printing integration into a fully automated production workflow?

3. How do you envision 3D printing integration into a fully automated production workflow?

“With a system like Form Cell – true lights-out manufacturing is possible. You could have a Form Cell printing off parts and have those being fed into a manufacturing line for assembly into some larger product or to be packed and shipped. For that to make business sense – the cost per part needs to come down to be comparable with other processes. Formlabs is making that possible by lowering the up-front equipment cost and reducing the labor cost through automation. Where direct 3D printing currently makes sense, is for low volume, highly complex parts – imagine the GE printed turbine blade. Formlabs is pushing to reduce cost per part such that it starts to make sense for small batch production, and of course, when complexity is free – mass customization starts to make sense. Automated solutions from Formlabs will enable the production of high volume parts with the ability to make parts unique to a customers preference at no additional cost. This is already happening in dentistry, audiology, and jewelry production – and we hope to see mass customization appearing more regularly in consumer products. We are focused on making the economics of direct 3D printing end-use parts make sense for higher volume, widely affordable products.”

4. Why do you think it has become important to automate the polymer AM production workflow?

4. Why do you think it has become important to automate the polymer AM production workflow?

“It’s becoming more important because we’re seeing additive manufacturing being used to create more and more end-use products that are highly customized. For it to truly compete with the cost and speed of production from say, injection molding – automation is needed to bring down total cost per part.”

5. Which are the biggest challenges that need to be overcome in order to achieve full automation of the polymer AM process?

5. Which are the biggest challenges that need to be overcome in order to achieve full automation of the polymer AM process?

“We needed the automated finishing tools for Form Cell to become a reality. Form Cell, today can take a print from the printer, wash, and post-cure the part. We are not yet able to fully remove the part from the build platform, or remove the part from supports – so those remain some important open challenges. At the start of the process, there is a lot of functionality we’re excited to build out in our Dashboard product, in terms of job scheduling and optimization. How do you know which resins are in the printers, how do you decide which printer to send a job to. Maintaining the consumables in the Form Cell is currently a manual process, what happens when a cartridge runs low? Tanks are also considered a consumable, but we recently announced our LT tank which has a vastly extended lifespan so that will help minimize the maintenance required. Generally, the biggest challenges stem from looking critically at the manual parts of the process and can be addressed by holistically designing your products and systems to make automation of those interaction points possible. Across polymer AM processes and solutions – support removal and maintenance of printers and consumables within closed systems remain challenging.”

 

Materials Handling, Post Processing, Finishing


PostProcess Technologies automation expert Jeff Mize

1. How do your systems integrate into a full production workflow?

1. How do your systems integrate into a full production workflow?

“We set out from the start to ensure our line of automated Production Series support removal and surface finishing solutions fit into a full production workflow. Our range of systems work with all 3D print materials and technologies. Driven by intelligent software, our machines require minimal technician time to operate and include both pre-programmed and custom recipes to optimize finishing. Preventative maintenance schedules are also included to minimize downtime. PostProcess’ hardware is thoughtfully engineered within a compact footprint to save space on crowded production floors and with “library quiet” features for a low dBa. We’ve formulated eco-friendly consumables specifically for 3D print materials for ease of use as “ready-to-use” solutions. These are just a few examples of how our systems were designed to integrate into the factory of the future.”

2. What can post-processing/finishing hardware manufacturers do to further automate the production process?

2. What can post-processing/finishing hardware manufacturers do to further automate the production process?

“We’ve approached automation of the post-print step of additive manufacturing by taking the guesswork out and designing software to control the process. Our intelligent AUTOMAT3D program was born from benchmarking hundreds of thousands of 3D printed parts of all different materials and technologies. This allowed us to write algorithms that intelligently compute cycle times, optimize agitation intensity and direction, and automate detergent dosing based on pre-programmed recipe programs. With new 3D print materials coming out every week, we continue to test these new materials and further optimize all elements of our solution to further reduce cycle times.”

Post Process Technologies Hybrid DECI Duo System

3. How do you envision 3D printing integration into a fully automated production workflow?

3. How do you envision 3D printing integration into a fully automated production workflow?

“Beyond the key factor of automating every step of the AM production line, there is a movement towards a fully digital production line within the Industry 4.0 concept. This is the idea that all things related to part design, through manufacturing and into use, are represented by digital information that represents the construction of a part. This will make the process and part “smart”, as all information associated with the part is not only captured after the fact but more importantly, describes how the part will look and be manufactured. Additive manufacturing is already well suited to have files of digital content available. The very nature of the process demands that a digital file is used.”

4. Why do you think it has become important to automate the AM production workflow?

4. Why do you think it has become important to automate the AM production workflow?

“Markets such as automotive and aerospace that lead the pack in projected AM growth are already disciplined in looking at efficiencies within every step of the supply chain. Automation allows the AM value proposition to be more fully realized and creates an even more compelling case for AM’s place on the manufacturing floor of the future. Redirecting human resources to spend their limited time on more value-added activities is a benefit of automation that everyone who is implementing additive manufacturing, not just automotive and aerospace, is seeking. Mass customization in several additional markets, such as dental, are ramping significantly and printing tens of millions of parts annually requiring automation in every step of the additive process to remove production bottlenecks.”

5. Which are the biggest challenges that need to be overcome in order to achieve full automation of the AM process?

5. Which are the biggest challenges that need to be overcome in order to achieve full automation of the AM process?

“We see the need to change the paradigm of thinking that post-printing methods that have been used for years are good enough. These traditional methods are not designed for 3D printed parts and therefore usually result in high damage rates, low throughput, and inconsistency. It is amazing when we see highly efficient and forward-thinking organizations with a floor full of today’s most advanced 3D printers using hand picks and sandpaper to finish a part. The opportunity for technology breakthroughs does not stop at the build stage of 3D printing – automated and intelligent post-printing systems designed specifically for AM parts will help accelerate further adoption of AM.”


FarleyGreene automation expert David Buckley

1. How do your systems integrate into a full production workflow?

1. How do your systems integrate into a full production workflow?

“Currently, we’ve removed the manual handling from AM machine to sieve, by incorporating a conveyor, but once through the sieve powders currently are recollected in the canister of the customer’s choice. This isn’t an ideal set-up for a production workflow, but with the large collection canister, this can be made to work. It also allows the customer access to the powder from a quality perspective, prior to reloading into the AM machine. With the high throughput, our unit can be employed to work alongside numerous AM machines, offering flexibility. In addition, our system can be offered with fully enclosed powder return to the AM machine, but this is expensive and complex, especially where Argon is employed as the environment surrounding the gas. This is an option that we’re working on. In the future, our system will offer full inline powder qualification.. again, this is something we’re working on.”

2. What can post-processing/finishing hardware manufacturers do to further automate the production process?

2. What can post-processing/finishing hardware manufacturers do to further automate the production process?

“I guess the whole process will have to become more automated… and this I think is the future, where our system is also linked into the finishing processes, so that all powder can be recycled.”

Farleygreene 3D printing automation solution

 

3. How do you envision 3D printing integration into a fully automated production workflow?

3. How do you envision 3D printing integration into a fully automated production workflow?

“I imagine that once build times are reduced considerably, it will sit better within the current workflow. There also needs to be integration of modular units for powder handling, so that this doesn’t stay such a manual operation.”

4. Why do you think it has become important to automate the AM production workflow?

4. Why do you think it has become important to automate the AM production workflow?

“I imagine that once build times are reduced considerably, it will sit better within the current workflow. There also needs to be integration of modular units for powder handling, so that this doesn’t stay such a manual operation.”

5. Which are the biggest challenges that need to be overcome in order to achieve full automation of the AM process?

5. Which are the biggest challenges that need to be overcome in order to achieve full automation of the AM process?

“Powder specification and handling will require much stricter standards. Automation will have to go hand-in-hand with access to powders for testing, throughout the process. AM machines will have to become reliable, so that all machines are providing the same quality of part, and that quality in the build is easier to set-up.”


Dyemansion automation expert Felix Ewald

1. How do your systems integrate into a full production workflow?

1. How do your systems integrate into a full production workflow?

“Our products itself are already a workflow. We call it “print to product“-workflow. Depowdering, Surfacing & Coloring. They easily can handle hundreds of parts per batch. We developed them for high volume manufacturing. They still not automated 100%, but you definitely can call it a production workflow.”

2. What can post-processing/finishing hardware manufacturers do to further automate the production process?

2. What can post-processing/finishing hardware manufacturers do to further automate the production process?

“From our side, we try to prepare our products for the requirements of industry 4.0. Sensors, intelligent software and many more things will come from us in the near future. That’s essential if you talk about future manufacturing processes.”

3. How do you envision 3D printing integration into a fully automated production workflow?

3. How do you envision 3D printing integration into a fully automated production workflow?

“Once we have a fully automated 3D printing workflow it shouldn’t be a big deal to integrate it into other workflows.”

Dyemansion 3D printing automation solution

 

4. Why do you think it has become important to automate the AM production workflow?

4. Why do you think it has become important to automate the AM production workflow?

“Because AM is heading towards a technology for high volume serial production. And high volume always requires automation to bring down the costs per part and to get scale.”

5. Which are the biggest challenges that need to be overcome in order to achieve full automation of the AM process?

5. Which are the biggest challenges that need to be overcome in order to achieve full automation of the AM process?

“First of all you need to have an application that its worth it to build a fully automated process. We are involved in many projects that have the potential to deliver those high volumes, but it’s still a long way to go. We predict that the first high volume projects will start in 2020. Another challenge is the different interfaces of the printer manufacturers. There are so many different printers and especially different building chambers/volumes, that it’s very hard to build automated productions chains for every single printer. So it’s necessary that all potential suppliers work together to finally deliver a fully integrated workflow. And as I mentioned above, we need to bring down the cost per part. The biggest challenge is to find AM applications for high volume. And those applications will become real once there are lower costs for materials on the market. That’s still the biggest challenge.”

Software


Materialise automation expert Stefaan Motte

1. How do your software systems integrate into a full production workflow?

1. How do your software systems integrate into a full production workflow?

“The current reality of an Additive Manufacturing production environment is what I call “many in, many out”. It involves a lot of different designs with different functional requirements. On top of that we have a huge range of machine brands using different technologies, depending on the specific requirements of the printed part. We know the struggles involved in the printing process very well, as we have been doing this for the past 28 years, and host in house one of the largest AM production facilities in the world. Our system is open which means we can integrate into any production workflow. So when we developed the Magics 3D Print Suite almost three decades ago, it was specifically geared towards this reality: we set out to be the best data and build preparation software out there, which we became. And we made sure that our system would interface directly with all of the different existing data formats, as well as with other software systems useful in the context of AM; whether it was for design optimizations, simulations or other operations.

As the Magics Software quickly evolved to become the industry standard data and build preparation tool, we were able to establish partnerships with the majority of systems manufactures in the 3D printing ecosystem. This ensures a seamless interface between the Materialise software and the different systems available, regardless of the brand. By doing so, we’ve ensured a seamless workflow for our users and partners in this “many in, many out” reality, while allowing them to generate more value from using AM technology. Later, as machine parks grew bigger, production management functionality was added to oursolution, also set as an open system. AM does not stand by itself, it is just one part in a larger ordering, production and post-production reality, within large scale MES or ERP systems. So as software developers, we need to incorporate that into our product architecture.

Through the partnerships we have established with CAD giants like Siemens and PTC, their users now also benefit from the Materialise build processors, connecting these CAD packages seamlessly to the majority of the 3D printing machines out there through Materialise software. I’m glad to see that others in the industry have now followed our lead, and are also increasingly opening up their systems.”

2. What can software publishers do to further automate the production process?

2. What can software publishers do to further automate the production process?

“We see a lot of potential in simulation. Last year, we introduced simulation capabilities in the Magics 3D print suite, allowing our users to better control and understand the entire process. Traditionally, production set-up or optimization comes down to trial and error: printing a lot of variations and converging on what works. Needless to say this is very time- and cost intensive. By using simulation, this can be done virtually, in the pre-build phase. Internally, we’ve already achieved great results by combining simulation with our Inspector software. One example is our custom insoles, where we reduced printing time by 38% through process optimization. In another case for an automotive customer we used process simulation to optimize the production process of extremely complex grippers, reducing scrap rate from 70% to close to 0%. These proof points encouraged us to bring the benefits of simulation to our customers. In the coming year we will be adding more simulation functionalities to our product portfolio by combining the simulation engine of our partner Simufact with our deep AM process know how. In addition, we believe that during the production and post-production process, inspection tools will make quality assurance more efficient. First by assisting the quality engineer, and more and more by automating assessments. These results will then be combined with the simulation and data preparation components of our software backbone, to further optimize future build strategies.”

3. How do you envision 3D printing integration into a fully automated production workflow?

3. How do you envision 3D printing integration into a fully automated production workflow?

“This is the future and in some very specific cases already a reality. You must realize that AM will only be one part of a larger workflow process, so the openness I mentioned before is key in achieving a fully automated production workflow. A seamless interface with the ordering or ERP system will be instrumental, while adding specific functionalities for the AM process. This is not only related to machine control, but we’re actively looking into how we can optimize build-preparation to improve the efficiency of the post-processing steps that follow.”

4. Why do you think it has become important to automate the AM production workflow?

4. Why do you think it has become important to automate the AM production workflow?

“Process automation has always been an important driver in the development of our software. This may sound obvious now, but for decades that wasn’t the case in our industry. Many AM players have tried to set up closed eco-systems, only working for specific brands or systems. Our industry is becoming very cost competitive, and labor is still one of the main cost drivers in the entire process. In order to scale, automation is crucial. Our software suite already offers many solutions to that extent and the numbers speak for themselves: our automated support generation solution reduces the manual labour for the build preparation of SLA plastic parts by two hours, and offers equally impressive numbers for metal. We are committed to further expand the automation options in our Materialise Magics 3D Print Suite. The cost reduction our customers can realize by using our solutions is one of the key performance indicators we use internally to measure the success of a new product release. Also in terms of scalability, automation plays a critical role. Doubling your machine park size is already quite a challenge, but doubling the number of experts needed to run that machine park is even more challenging. By automating certain steps, we ensure that those experts can run larger production facilities.”

5. Which are the biggest challenges that need to be overcome in order to achieve full automation of the AM process?

5. Which are the biggest challenges that need to be overcome in order to achieve full automation of the AM process?

“On the machine and technology side, making the process more repeatable and consistent is certainly an attention point, especially when entering serial mass production. Related to that, improving automated quality assurance is necessary, and for this, further openness from the machine side will be crucial. People are talking a lot about the industrial internet of things, but when we compare AM machines with e.g. multi-axis robots in production lines, our industry is not on the same level yet when it comes to (inter) machine communication, data exchange, analysis and automated responses. Software can do a lot to streamline and drive fully automated production lines, but in order to enable that, the AM industry needs to step up on those two fronts.”


Authentise automation expert Andre Wegner

1. How do your software systems integrate into a full production workflow?

1. How do your software systems integrate into a full production workflow?

“Our Authentise Manufacturing Execution System manages the entire workflow, from taking in and processing an order through monitoring production with our unique data-connectivity directly to the machine and certifying parts with our automatically created traceability report. Our platform is entirely open with over 700 API endpoints, meaning that other software vendors, such as MakePrintable, ProtoTech, Autodesk, and others, find it easy to integrate their solutions and create an even more seamless experience for users. The API’s also allow customers to integrate the Authentise Manufacturing Execution System with their existing IT infrastructure, such as ERP tools, accounting, and others. We also offer expansion packs which allow for further automation: for example automatic mesh healing, file conversion or, serialization.”

2.What can software publishers do to further automate the production process?

2.What can software publishers do to further automate the production process?

“We are currently in the process of integrating with other third-party providers to simplify workflows that currently require additional software, for example, support and orientation optimization, post-processing and material management. The first step is set for this quarter, when we announce our collaboration with a number of CAD companies to make it easier to open designs from our workflow tool in CAD, and save designs back again. In addition, we’ve got several partnerships with other software and hardware vendors in the process, which will yield additional efficiency gains for the end user. Over time, we expect that most actions aside from core design will be completed in workflow tools – just like mesh healing disappeared ‘behind the veil’, so too will the other actions that currently preoccupy users such as toolpath creation, support and, a little longer down the road, quality assurance.”

Authentise 3D printing automation expert

3. How do you envision 3D printing integration into a fully automated production workflow?

3. How do you envision 3D printing integration into a fully automated production workflow?

“Outside of the already outlined software improvement, manufacturers such as EOS are embarking on ambitious mechanical automation strategies.”

4. Why do you think it has become important to automate the AM production workflow

4. Why do you think it has become important to automate the AM production workflow

“We believe that fully automated workflows can create efficiencies and thus lower the Total Cost of Ownership of AM machines, making more use cases viable. In addition, full automation will also allow us to increase process certainty, reducing testing requirements and eventually leading to full digital certification. This further reduces Total Cost of Ownership, but also leads to remote certification. Digital warranties would enable distributed manufacturing of parts warranted by the Intellectual Property owner: Boeing spare parts manufactured by a third party in Kathmandu, digitally and remotely verified Boeing.”

5. Which are the biggest challenges that need to be overcome in order to achieve full automation of the AM process?

5. Which are the biggest challenges that need to be overcome in order to achieve full automation of the AM process?

“This vision cannot be accomplished without collaboration. Many vendors on the hardware, software, process and material side have to work together to start offering solutions: While some OEMs already allow us to access data, we need to reverse-engineer other protocols. It would be easier for all if parties could agree to start sharing data access for both delivering print files and calling status information, preferably via open standards such as MTConnect. Software vendors need to be sure that they have the right endpoints available and are opening them up to others. Partner application developers and other users are also important collaborators in defining and testing the initial deliverables. The process of going from where we are today to a fully automated system is an iterative road of solving current challenges while building for the future. We are lucky that we have excellent partners to work with us on this roadmap.”


ANSYS automation expert Brent Stucker

1. How do your software systems integrate into a full production workflow?

1. How do your software systems integrate into a full production workflow?

“ANSYS’ Additive products enable users to import build files directly from AM machines, to ensure that predictive simulations mimic the exact way a machine will build a part. ANSYS is working with machine manufacturers and sensor providers to predict how a machine will perform if operating correctly, so that a part can come out of the machine fully qualified. ANSYS is working with powder manufacturers to ensure the simulation assumptions exactly match the characteristics of the powder in the machine. In addition, ANSYS partnered with leading parts producers, academics, software companies and leading research institutions to ensure that its software tools support customers throughout the production workflow.”

2.What can software publishers do to further automate the production process?

2.What can software publishers do to further automate the production process?

“Predictive simulation enables the production process to be automated. Designers can predict topologically optimized geometries and how their parts will deform during printing — and automatically compensate their geometry so that it distorts to the right shape during production. Machine operators can understand how to orient parts, place supports, and choose process parameters to maximize part accuracy, minimize build failures and ensure the part conforms to performance criteria. Material scientists can predict how new alloy chemistries will respond using orders of magnitude fewer trial-and-error experiments.”

ANSYS 3D printing automation solution
Fluid results like vorticity are instant and provide insight into recirculation zones as well as velocity.

3. How do you envision 3D printing integration into a fully automated production workflow?

3. How do you envision 3D printing integration into a fully automated production workflow?

“We envision a seamless workflow that enables designers to consider all of the production issues during design. By predicting build effects, microstructure and properties, the designer can design components with confidence and avoid significant trial-and-error and guesswork throughout the production workflow!”

4. Why do you think it has become important to automate the AM production workflow?

4. Why do you think it has become important to automate the AM production workflow?

“Today success is highly dependent upon the designer’s skill in Design for Additive Manufacturing (DfAM). In addition, a skilled machine operator is needed to ensure the design is built successfully. There are orders of magnitude fewer highly skilled designers and operators than there is demand. The only way to eliminate this bottleneck is to automate the production workflow. In addition, even highly skilled designers and operators can’t anticipate all of the physics that will converge in a highly complex part, including how changes in part orientation, supports, process parameters, and powder type will come together to give success or failure. A truly optimized process requires automation.”

5. Which are the biggest challenges that need to be overcome in order to achieve full automation of the AM process?

5. Which are the biggest challenges that need to be overcome in order to achieve full automation of the AM process?

“Fully automating the AM process requires close partnership between simulation companies, machine manufacturers, powder suppliers, parts producers, post-processors, and more. To achieve success, all of these parties must work together.”


RP Platform automation expert Victoria Akinsowon

1. How do your software systems integrate into a full production workflow?

1. How do your software systems integrate into a full production workflow?

“RP Platform integrates into AM workflows by providing software solutions to automate every step of the production process. Our mission is to create autonomous production workflows that allow companies to seamlessly integrate their production units with suppliers, as well as manufacture end parts on demand. To achieve this, we’ve developed integrated order and production management tools, enabling companies to create comprehensive end part catalogues, manage and schedule builds and monitor production through real-time part tracking. We want to enhance existing workflows, which is why our software integrates with all major ERP systems, and our email integration tool is designed to manage all internal and external communications from one platform. We believe that automation truly is the future of AM, and we have developed our software to ensure that companies can achieve greater efficiency in their AM workflows, and thereby increase their productivity – all through automation.”

2.What can software publishers do to further automate the production process?

2.What can software publishers do to further automate the production process?

“Post production steps are still overwhelmingly a manual process, with parts often requiring complex post processing techniques that are both labour and time intensive. We believe that more developments will be made to automate this process further, with a combination of robotic systems and software aiding the process of finishing parts through automation.”

3. How do you envision 3D printing integration into a fully automated production workflow?

3. How do you envision 3D printing integration into a fully automated production workflow?

“As 3D printing technology matures and is increasingly integrated into wider manufacturing processes, we believe that every step of the production workflow will eventually be automated. Indeed, we’re already seeing this in the pre-production phase, with software automatically converting and repairing files, and simulation software helping to predict build failures for metal AM. Automation of production workflows will therefore result in more streamlined processes across the board.”

4. Why do you think it has become important to automate the AM production workflow?

4. Why do you think it has become important to automate the AM production workflow?

“As we move further towards Industry 4.0 and the digitisation of manufacturing processes, automating these processes has inevitably become a key concern for companies. Automation ensures that production workflows run more efficiently, in part by replacing manual processes and ensuring that operations can run 24/7. This in turn provides a high ROI for companies as productivity significantly increases. Furthermore, we’ve found that companies desire greater traceability throughout the production process – and software automation can provide this, for example through file versioning and real time data tracking tools. Ultimately, automation is crucial for more efficient, streamlined workflows.”

5. Which are the biggest challenges that need to be overcome in order to achieve full automation of the AM process?

5. Which are the biggest challenges that need to be overcome in order to achieve full automation of the AM process?

“We see two major challenges, the first being the initial costs of implementing automated systems. However, the benefits and cost savings once these systems are up and running far outweigh the initial investment. The second challenge is simply ensuring that companies are made aware of the benefits of automation – particularly software automation – as a means of speeding up slow, manual processes, and ultimately increasing your bottom line.”

3D Printing Business Directory

About Minuca Elena

Minuca is a freelance writer specialized in creating expert roundups which provide readers with high-quality, informative content. She also helps bloggers connect with influencers. You can contact her at her blog, MinucaElena.com

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