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Autodesk goes after the ‘early majority’

Kip Hanson
By Kip Hanson Contributing Editor, SME Media

AM UPDATE: A conversation with Contributing Editor Kip Hanson

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Leanne Gluck, Additive manufacturing business and industry strategy, Autodesk

Leanne, what are some of the biggest hurdles facing additive manufacturers today, and how does Autodesk help eliminate them?

While the additive market is projected to be around $40 billion by 2028, we still have work to do to help customers “cross the chasm” from early adopters to the early majority. In addition to hurdles like materials availability, quality and validation, and the development of process parameters, two of the biggest challenges lie with design capability for additive manufacturing (AM) and workflow complexity.

Autodesk eases the burden of 3D model preparation and removes disjointed workflows, giving designers the ability to modify 3D models within CAD and quickly iterate without cumbersome data conversions. Bringing advanced additive capabilities, such as topology optimization, latticing and process simulation, directly into the CAD environment are some of the highest value opportunities we see to support manufacturers today.

Generative design is all the buzz now, yet manufacturers have been 3D printing for more than three decades. What’s changed?

Generative design is a powerful design exploration technology that helps manufacturers achieve more than ever before.

Previously, designers and engineers could develop a few possible solutions in the time they had available.

With generative design and the computing power of the cloud, however, they get numerous solutions that all meet manufacturing goals and constraints. They can then use their expertise and aesthetic sense to determine a better solution more quickly. While the evolution of 3D printing hardware, new materials and processing speed in software has helped manufacturers unlock the power of generative design, it’s also important to note that the decoupling of generative design from AM has helped to drive mainstream adoption.

There’s a great deal of discussion surrounding 3D printing workflows, something Autodesk supports. Why are they important?

Our customers are under more pressure than ever before, and 3D printing is one technology that’s helping them realize new outcomes. Because of this, it’s becoming commonplace in a wide range of industries, from automotive to health care, architecture, construction and consumer products. We are in a time of manufacturing revolution, not evolution. 3D printing supports things like customization, small-batch manufacturing and innovation in new ways that can only be realized with seamless, easy-to-use workflows, allowing users to connect design to manufacturing and customers to iterate faster.

Should manufacturers (and software providers) pay more attention to workflows with machining, fabricating and other “traditional” processes? If so, why?

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Generative technology from Autodesk reduced the weight of this motorcycle component by 23 percent over the legacy design.

3D printing is just one tool in a powerful toolbox, and the real opportunity for manufacturing innovation comes with integrating multiple manufacturing technologies in new ways. For example, making molds with 3D printing or leveraging CNC and robotics for large-scale hybrid manufacturing projects like shipbuilding, bridge-building and construction. Autodesk Fusion 360 is an integrated CAD, ECAD, CAM, and CAE software that unifies design, engineering and manufacturing into a single platform. It amplifies manufacturing capacity, enhances program efficiency and delivers superior parts while being flexible and accessible.

Autodesk recently introduced new AM features in the Fusion 360 product. Why? And does it indicate that more AM-specific functionality is forthcoming?

Our vision for additive is to make 3D printing as smooth and accessible for designers, engineers and technicians as possible. Over the past year, we’ve been introducing new additive features in Fusion 360 to bring this vision to life, focused on the entire workflow from design and 3D print to inspection and machining. These include a new FFF slicer that creates a streamlined workflow for people who want to print their models, and an Additive Build Extension that aims to provide full production process control and access to additional workflows. This year Fusion 360 will introduce support for additional 3D printing technologies, such as SLA, DLP, SLS and MJF. It also released the tech preview for the “additive simulation extension,” which provides part level simulation capabilities for metal additive to detect and avoid common print failures in metal AM.

Several years ago, Fusion 360 moved to a subscription model, and I see your NetFabb 3D printing software has followed suit. What arguments can you make to those who prefer “on-prem” software?

At Autodesk, we see substantial benefits to our customers using cloud-based subscription software. And we’re not alone. Across the software industry, SaaS (software-as-a-service) is the norm because it enables providers to better support their customers in several ways, including closer control over and forecasting of software costs, greater data security and reduced “on-prem” hardware requirements.

This last part is especially important given the computing power needed for complex processes, such as simulation, generative design and specialized manufacturing capabilities.

Many 3D printer manufacturers offer proprietary software suites with their products. Why would I opt to use a third-party package like Fusion 360?

There are three compelling reasons to consider using Fusion 360 for additive manufacturing as your main additive software solution, or at least as a powerful complement to the proprietary software suites that come with the printer. The first is access to advanced capabilities often unavailable from 3D printer manufacturers, followed by end-to-end workflows for design and print and the ability to connect directly to your 3D printer from your CAD software. Fusion 360 offers professional 3D print preparation for various 3D printing technologies from numerous manufacturers. Beyond that, it also provides optimization, design, simulation, rendering, documentation and machining capabilities. Also, remember that most companies have multiple 3D printers from various manufacturers. The challenges of dealing with new software for each can be eliminated with a solution like Fusion 360.

Most 3D-printed parts, especially those made of metal, require machining after leaving the build chamber. Is any specific CAM functionality needed to program these secondary operations?

Many additive prints, especially in metal, do need further surface finishing to meet tolerances and drawing specifications.

It depends on the use case, print processes and part complexity, but access to a CNC machine tool is necessary for most customers working in metal additive for production purposes. With an integrated platform like Fusion 360, the design, slicing, build simulations, and post-machining CAM, can all be accomplished using one software.

What do you see as the “next big thing” in additive manufacturing?

The industry will grow and evolve through new applications driven by design, and our imagination, along with technology, hardware, materials, is the key to unlocking what’s next. Imagine software that allows manufacturers to simulate impact and energy absorption, modulate material stiffness in different areas of a part, distribute soft and hard materials to create things like interlocking joints, or design for heat transfer, adding voids into plastic to resist the transfer of heat or designing to increase heat flow. Now imagine the applications that will emerge when designers and engineers can selectively print a color at each volumetric pixel, control translucency to enable the printing of sensors and lenses or enable parts with multiple textures and materials. These are a few examples of what I see as the “next big thing.”

Formlabs Introduces New Resins

Formlabs announced two new proprietary materials, Rigid 10K Resin and a reformulation of Draft Resin. Draft Resin is said to enable manufacturing users to print up to four times faster than currently available resins while maintaining the highest degree of accuracy. Rigid 10K Resin is the stiffest material in Formlabs’ portfolio. It has enabled users like Novus Applications, an engineering and consulting company focused on the consumer packaging industry, to create 3D-printed molds and inserts. The company said this has made the injection molding workflow more efficient on short-run injection molds and cores while reducing costs and manufacturing time.

Loctite Goes Additive

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Loctite 3D IND405 Clear parts printed with the Carbon DLS process.

Germany manufacturing giant Henkel is set to collaborate with digital manufacturing company Carbon on Loctite-branded polymer formulations validated for use with Carbon's Digital Light Synthesis (Carbon DLS) 3D-printing process. As part of the collaboration, the new Loctite 3D IND405 Clear—a tough, semirigid, 3D-printable material—is immediately available to Carbon customers. “Our customers have asked us for a clear material that is tough, durable and high-impact resistant, and Loctite 3D IND405 meets those needs,” said Jason Rolland, Carbon’s senior vice president of materials.

HP Reports

At its October 15 Global Innovation Summit, HP delivered the results of its Digital Manufacturing Trend Report. It finds that companies are increasingly investing in advanced 3D printing solutions and that, regardless of sector or location, they are using or planning to use the technology in the future. “The global manufacturing sector is signaling a desire for greater supply chain resiliency, more manufacturing flexibility, increased speed of innovation, and stronger environmental sustainability,” said Ramon Pastor, general manager, HP 3D printing & digital manufacturing. “And they are seeing industrial 3D printing as a way to not only lower costs and go to market faster, but as a unique competitive advantage that accelerates innovation for customers.”

Big Fish Eating Little Fish

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An assortment of 3D printed metal parts from service bureau BEAMIT .

In July 2019, Sandvik bought a significant stake in the European AM service provider BEAMIT, with the right to further increase its stake over time. The two now report that they have made several significant advances in metal additive manufacturing over the last six months, most recently the BEAMIT Group’s purchase of ZARE, thus forming one of the largest independent AM service providers in Europe. BEAMIT’s acquisition of ZARE follows its recent investment in PRES-X, a company specializing in AM post-processing and known for its ability to perform high-pressure heat-treatments to 3D printed parts along with other advanced post-processing methods like roughness surface smoothening preparation on external and internal surfaces and depowdering.

Better PEEK

3D printer manufacturer Zortrax of Poland and the European Space Agency (ESA) are working to 3D print high-performance composite parts out of two blends of PEEK (polyether ether ketone) filament via dual extrusion on the company’s Endureal 3D printer. After nearly a year of R&D efforts, the first prototype composite parts made out of standard PEEK and experimental electrically conductive PEEK developed by ESA have been fabricated. “Reducing weight is always one of the key design goals in aerospace engineering and it can be done by building parts that serve multiple purposes at once,” said Michał Siemaszko, head of R&D at Zortrax. “This is what we aim to solve by 3D printing PEEK structural components with electrically conductive paths, in that they can perform electricity or data-transfer functions without the weight penalty of additional wiring.”

Sapphire Gets a Big Brother

“Support Free” laser powder-bed fusion (LPBF) printer company Velo3D announced the Sapphire XC, an “extra capacity,” large-format metal printer. The new printer boasts a build volume of 600 mm × 550 mm (23.62" × 21.65") and eight 1000-watt lasers. It will reportedly increase production throughput by 5× and cut cost-per-part by up to 75 percent compared with the existing Sapphire system. Velo3D also announced plans to roll out Sapphire Gen 2, a software and hardware upgrade said to improve performance up to 50 percent on existing systems.

Alloyed and XAM Join Forces

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This turbine made by Alloyed and XAM illustrates the company’s ability to produce complex, fine-featured components.

NTT DATA XAM Technologies (XAM) of Japan and Alloyed, the trading name of OxMet Technologies of Oxford, UK, plan to jointly build an AM business in Japan. The pact they signed anticipates a comprehensive collaboration under which NTT Data Engineering Systems (NDES) would become a preferred manufacturer of components based on ABD-900AM, an age-hardenable, nickel-based superalloy, as well as other ABD alloys. The two companies will also collaborate broadly to offer fine-featured, additively manufactured components to Japanese markets.

Meet Jellypipe

Online 3D printing ecosystem Jellypipe appears to be gaining traction in the UK and Ireland after its recent launch in the region, having been active and successful in continental Europe for several years. Jellypipe allows manufacturing experts and consultants to open a virtual shop on the 3D printing platform for a nominal monthly fee—and generate income from a percentage of the work ordered through that shop. “3D printing is today seen as a cost-effective and speedy way to manufacture an array of innovative parts and components, and even more so as companies react to the COVID-19 pandemic,” Jellypipe’s Scott Colman said. “The ecosystem reduces the barriers to entry for companies as they make the step toward the use of 3D printing.”

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