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Thursday, March 22, 2018

Some Thoughts on the Industrialization of Additive Manufacturing

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3D Printing Advances in Additive Manufacturing (AM) equipment offer the prospect of making industrial quality components and even whole products. AM machine makers claim they can make industrial quality products from a variety of new materials. Design tool providers claim their tools can design, simulate, and optimize every stage of the process. Still, there are many challenges despite some real advances. In this blog post, I will expose what's missing and discuss some of the biggest challenges, then offer suggestions about what to do to successfully implement AM into your company.

Companies have been using a similar approach to engineering design for 1000's of years, yes, long before computers. Since those times the final product has been conceived, defined into smaller components, then assembled into the final product, usually with removable fixturing techniques just in case it needed to be disassembled. Organizations evolved around the discrete disciplines needed for this purpose and the software tools needed for the tasks. These very departments that brought industrial success, have now become impediments to how we design and make things using AM.

Implementing AM into production is not just acquiring an AM Machine. To take full advantage of AM, it is essential to evaluate the entire lifecycle starting with requirements gathering, then high-level product design, detailed design, topology optimization, material selection, process planning, and of course the AM technology and choice of machine. Beyond the technology considerations are things like the business case i.e. what we stop doing, what we start doing, return on investment, education, and organizational challenges.

Design for Additive Manufacturing (DfAM) offers very different ways to design products. Multi-part assemblies held together with bolts, nuts, washers, and using gaskets, may be consolidated into one single monolithic structure with no bolts using AM. To achieve this requires techniques such as Generative Design, defining design parameters numerically then letting the computer generate the geometry; Topology Optimization, to create new forms that are both lighter and stronger; Light Weighting or latticing, to reduce material and weight and therefore increase performance even further; and Simulation tools, to verify the component is printable and will work.

Throughout the design to production lifecycle, components should be verified by printing them at various stages, measuring the results e.g. surface finish, deformation, porosity etc., and then recording those results. All decisions, parameters, machine settings, material choices, and changes should be recorded using Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) technology. Only through systems of governance, like PLM, can the final as-designed, as-built record be maintained as corporate IP. And even if one component in a whole product is made using AM, it’s still essential to manage the lifecycle in the same way as the rest of the product is managed. A single (AM) failure can precipitate an entire product failure with catastrophic results.

So, what’s the take away?

  1. To make industrial quality, for end-use, components or whole products, needs a complete end-to-end plan including ROI.
  2. Educate all people involved about DfAM methods, tools such as Topology Optimization, Simulation, and Generative Design.
  3. Remove organizational barriers between design, quality, and production so that verification prints can be done freely, frequently, and all learnings recorded and shared with all stakeholders for future use.

I will talk more about this topic at the upcoming CIMdata PLM Market & Industry Forum, which takes place in Ann Arbor, Michigan on 5 April.

Until then let me know what you think!



James White

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