A couple of months ago, back at D3DLive! I had the pleasure of chairing the Additive Manufacturing (AM) track. This event in my opinion alongside a few others e.g. Siggraph and COFES is one of the key technology and futures events for the CAD/Graphics ecosystem. This event is also free thanks in part to major sponsors HP, Intel, AMD and Dell sponsorship.
A few years ago, at such events the 3D-printing offerings were interesting, quirky but not really mainstream manufacturing or CAD. There were 3D-printing vendors and a few niche consultancies, but it certainly wasn’t technology making keynotes or mentioned by the CAD/design software giants. This year saw the second session of the day on the keynote stage (video here) featuring a generative design demo from Bradley Rothenberg of nTopology.
With a full track dedicated to Additive Manufacture(AM) this year including the large mainstream CAD software vendors such as Dassault, Siemens PLM and Autodesk this technology really has hit the mainstream. The track was well attended with approximately half of the attendees when poled where actually involved in implementing additive manufacture and a significant proportion using it in production.
There was in general a significant overlap between many of the sessions, this technology has now become so mainstream that rather than seeing new concepts we are seeing like mainstream CAD more of an emphasis on specific product implementations and GUIs.
The morning session was kicked off by Sophie Jones, General Manager of Added Scientific a specialist consultancy with strong academic research links who investigate future technologies. This really was futures stuff rather than the mainstream covering 3D-printing of tailored pharmaceuticals and healthcare electronics.
Kieron Salter from KWSP then talked about some of their user case studies, as a specialist consultancy they’ve been needed by some customers to bridge the gaps in understanding. In particular, some of their work in the Motorsports sector was particularly interesting as cutting-edge novel automotive design.
Jesse Blankenship from Frustum gave a nice overview of their products and their integration into Solid Edge, Siemens NX and Onshape but he also showed the developer tools and GUIs that other CAD vendors and third-parties can use to integrate generative design technologies. In the world of CAD components, Frustum look well-placed to become a key component vendor.
Andy Roberts from Desktop Metal gave a rather beautiful demonstration walking through the generative design of a part, literally watching the iteration from a few constraints to an optimised part. This highlighted how different many of these parts can be compared to traditional techniques.
The afternoon’s schedule started with a bonus session that hadn’t made the printed schedule from Johannes Mann of Volume Graphics. It was a very insightful overview of the challenges in fidelity checking additive manufacturing and simulations on such parts (including some from Airbus).
Bradley Rothenberg of nTopology reappeared to elaborate on his keynote demo and covered some of the issues for quality control and simulation for generative design that CAM/CAE have solved for conventional manufacturing techniques.
Autodesk’s Andy Harris’ talk focused on how AM was enabling new genres of parts that simply aren’t feasible via other techniques. The complexity and quality of some of the resulting parts were impressive and often incredibly beautiful.
Dassault’s session was given by a last-minute speaker substitution of David Reid; I haven’t seen David talk before and he’s a great speaker. It was great to see a session led from the Simulia side of Dassault and how their AM technology integrates with their wider products. A case study on Airbus’ choice and usage of Simulia was particularly interesting as it covered how even the most safety critical, traditional big manufacturers are taking AM seriously and successfully integrating it into their complex PLM and regulatory frameworks.
The final session of the day was probably my personal favourite, Louise Geekie from Croft AM gave a brilliant talk on metal AM but what made it for me was her theme of understanding when you shouldn’t use AM and it’s limitations – basically just because you can… should you? This covered long term considerations on production volumes, compromises on material yield for surface quality, failure rates and costs of post-production finishing. Just because a part has been designed by engineering optimisation doesn’t mean an end user finds it aesthetically appealing – the case where a motorcycle manufacturer and indeed wants the front fork to “look” solid.
Overall my key takeaways were:
· Just because you can doesn’t mean you should, choosing AM requires an understanding of the limitations and compromises and an overall plan if volume manufacture is an issue
· The big CAD players are involved but there’s still work to be done to harden the surrounding frameworks in particular reliable simulation, search, fidelity testing.
· How well the surrounding products and technologies handle the types of topologies and geometries GM throws out will be interesting. In particular it’ll be interesting to watch how Siemens Syncronous Technology and direct modellers cope, and the part search engines such as Siemens Geolus too.
· Generative manufacture is computationally heavy and the quality of your CPU and GPU is worth thinking about.
Hardware OEMS and CPU/GPU Vendors taking CAD/PLM seriously
These new technologies are all hardware and computationally demanding compared to the modelling kernels of 20 years ago. AMD were showcasing and talking about all the pro-viz, rendering and cloud graphics technologies you’d expect but it was pleasing to see their product and solution teams and those from Dell, Intel, HP etc talking about computationally intensive technologies that benefit from GPU and CPU horse power such as CAE/FEA and of course generative design. It’s been noticeable in recent years in the increasing involvement and support from hardware OEMs and GPU vendors for end-user and ISV CAD/Design events and forums such as COFES, Siemens PLM Community and Dassault’s Community of Experts; which should hopefully bode well for future platform developments in hardware for CAD/Design.
A few weeks ago Al Dean from Develop3D wrote an article (bordering on a rant) about how poorly positioned a lot of the information around generative design (topology optimisation) and it’s link to additive manufacture is. I think many reading, simply thought – yes!
After reading it – I came to the conclusion that many think generative design and additive manufacture are inextricably linked. Whilst they can be used in conjunction there are vast numbers of use cases where the use of only one of the technologies is appropriate.
Generative design in my mind is computationally optimising a design to some physical constraints – it could be mass of material, or physical forces (stress/strain) and could include additional constraints – must have a connector like this in this area, must be this long or even must be tapered and constructed so it can be moulded (include appropriate tapers etc – so falls out the mold).
Additive manufacture is essentially 3-D printing, often metals. Adding material rather than the traditional machining mentality of CAD (Booleans often described as target and tool) – removing stuff from a block of metal by machining.
My feeling is generative design far greater potential for reducing costs and optimising parts for traditional manufacturing techniques e.g. 3/5-axis G-code like considerations, machining, injection molding than has been highlighted. Whilst AM as a prototyping workflow for those techniques is less mature than it could be as the focus has been on these weird and wonderful organic parts you couldn’t make before without AM/3-D Printing.