Additive manufacturing is growing in popularity and becoming more mainstream as a viable manufacturing method. Companies use this method, also known as 3D printing, to make and test prototypes during product development and engineering.  But there is more use for 3D printing.

Metal printing is now a viable 3D printing technique. Some companies use it as an alternative to traditional manufacturing for many low-volume applications. However, the lifecycle of parts produced by 3D printing is quite different from parts produced by conventional manufacturing. 

Role of Software in Additive Manufacturing

Additive manufacturing is now a serious alternative to traditional methods, thanks to metal printing. The development of key software components has also facilitated the widespread adoption of this technology. 

3D Systems, a well-known entity in 3D printing, recently acquired Oqton and integrated all software solutions under the Oqton brand. This new acquisition will set the foundation for an improved additive manufacturing platform. 3D Systems is leveraging Oqton’s brand and technology to create an AI-powered manufacturing operating system. 3D Systems, with the addition of Oqton’s technology, now has a hardware-agnostic family of solutions that is critical to the large-scale adoption and advancement of 3D printing. In addition to the newly acquired cloud-based solution, Oqton, 3D Systems also has a desktop solution, 3DXpert. 3DXpert is an integrated desktop software for additive manufacturing that supports a streamlined workflow from design to printing. Both of these solutions empower additive manufacturing. 

This post discusses the software aspects of additive manufacturing and the role Oqton plays in the go-forward vision for 3D Systems. We will cover the role of generative design and three critical phases of additive manufacturing: a design for additive manufacturing (DfAM), production preparation, and manufacturing operations. There are unique needs and requirements for 3D-printed parts in each of these phases. 

Role of Generative Design / Topology Optimization

Before we dive into detailed capabilities, it is important to understand emerging technologies in design like generative design and topology optimization. These technologies are well suited to advance additive manufacturing. 

Design engineers are increasingly harnessing these technologies to create products requiring high performance. Using topology optimization or generative design, design engineers do not have to start from scratch to create a product. Instead, they can develop new products from existing designs created for traditional, subtractive manufacturing. An algorithm modifies the geometry of the product design by respecting certain constraints so that the final geometry is much more optimized for weight or volume. 

Generative design processes often result in organic shapes that are difficult to manufacture traditionally. Since additive manufacturing is less constrained by shape, engineers produce these parts via 3D printing. 

3D Systems’ solutions include the 3DXpert platform, which features topology optimization and generative capabilities. These functions enable design engineers to optimize their designs and ready them for printing.

Design for Additive Manufacturing  (DfAM)

When engineers design for additive manufacturing, they must follow a set of procedures that ensure successful 3D printing of the parts. DfAM tools ensure that engineers follow design procedures, thereby guaranteeing parts can be 3D printed. These tools flag violations and suggest design changes that enable successful manufacturing. 

DfAM also offers digital simulation of the additive manufacturing process. Using this capability, engineers can visualize the formation of the part as it is printed. They can see how the parts warp and deform when printed. Digital simulation also helps engineers understand the effects of thermal stress on the part geometry. 

Engineers no longer need to hope for the best when taking their product designs to manufacturing. Using DfAM and building simulation tools, engineers can perfect a part’s design on a computer before sending it to a 3D printer. Digitally verifying the product design before printing saves material, energy, and time. 

The 3DXpert solution has DfAM tools, including lattices, infills, and texturing. The solution operates on native CAD geometry to verify that a part design is suitable for AM. It also has build simulation capabilities to simulate the AM process. These tools help engineers design products suitable for 3D printing. 

Production Planning and Preparation

Using DfAM tools, engineers can ensure that a part design is ready for 3D printing. Production engineers can then prepare for the production process. 

This process starts by orienting the part within the 3D printer. Next, engineers select the appropriate printing material. From there, they must finalize support structures for the printed parts.

Engineers also have to determine how to nest the parts in the printer volume. The nesting process is essential for efficient 3D printing. Software tools like the ones offered by 3D Systems can automate the 3D nesting process and help engineers visualize the number of components placed in the 3D volume. This process provides important information like area, volume utilization, and a prediction of the total printing time.

Nesting and other planning and preparation tasks are time-consuming. Oqton’s cloud-based solution automates all the tasks—such as material, part import, orientation, support, nesting, and slicing—involved in printing the product. This automation capability frees up engineers’ time so that they can focus on other high-value design tasks. 

Manufacturing Operations

Many companies have invested in capital-intensive 3D printers and they need to get the most out of this investment to ensure a good ROI. Managers would like to use these printers efficiently to get high utilization rates.

Additive manufacturing operations are frequently mismanaged, however. Because of this inefficiency, companies often fail to get high utilization rates from their expensive machines. 

There is a solution for this inefficiency. To improve 3D printer utilization rates, companies must plan manufacturing operations and monitor them in real-time. Better visibility of the process, automation, and real-time tracking improve utilization and ROI.

Oqton can help companies achieve these goals. It is a cloud-based manufacturing execution system solution (MES) for additive manufacturing. The solution allows companies to significantly improve workflow visibility throughout the printing process. It supports scheduling and planning for the workforce, the machines, and the material across multiple production sites.

Using Oqton, manufacturing teams can monitor all of the 3D printing jobs. Teams can track their job status, view video feeds, and monitor sensor values. The machine-monitoring capability prevents issues and enables teams to quickly react to machine downtime with easily viewable, live status reports. Oqton immediately communicates failed build jobs through an automated notification process. This feature helps companies save manufacturing costs and avoid delays.

Oqton Helps Companies Utilize Additive Manufacturing

Additive manufacturing has exploded in popularity in the past few years. 3D Systems’ acquisition of Oqton enables manufacturers to take full advantage of this powerful technology. The suite of software tools and solutions under the Oqton brand helps companies develop exceptional products for 3D printing applications. 

Engineers can use 3DXpert’s topology optimization or generative design to develop product designs that can only be created using additive manufacturing. DfAM tools and virtual simulation enable engineers to create 3D product designs that are ready for production. Companies can get the most out of their 3D printer investment by using Oqton’s cloud-based MES to improve workflow visibility. This solution saves on manufacturing costs and reduces manufacturing delays. 

Manufacturers can use 3D Systems printers and Oqton software to develop the next generation of product designs.