From Concept to Production: Simulation Helps Additive Manufacturing Get Real

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Dassault Systèmes is in the very real business of simulation, as technology helps production get real. Midway between conceptualization and realization, simulation is increasingly coming into play as a means to make production processes more efficient — a trend notably rising in additive manufacturing. 3D printing makes possible more geometries than ever before, but that doesn’t mean that complex processes are as easy as hitting print; there’s an entire process that must be gone through, and that was the theme of the Additive Manufacturing Symposium ahead of the recent Science in the Age of Experience event that Dassault hosted in Chicago.

An undeniable move in additive manufacturing today is the trend toward end-use production. Many companies are moving to scale up their 3D printing efforts to bring mass customization to production — a notable example, and one that was very present in Chicago, is that of adidas working with Carbon to 3D print shoes for commercialization. We’ve been talking a lot about 3D printed shoes lately, but there’s very good reason for that: shoes present a tangible example of a product consumers understand and manufacturers want to streamline. The question of enhancing shoe production, though, was just one of the queries that came to the fore in Dassault’s event. Following closely on the heels of the preceding week’s very busy additive manufacturing-focused RAPID + TCT, I had gone in expecting a lot of questions as Science in the Age of Technology kicked off; what I didn’t anticipate was just how many of those questions would be asked by those taking the stage at the event’s Additive Manufacturing Symposium:

“What do shoes have to do with 3D printing?”

“What does it take to make steel lighter than a feather?”

“What does 3D printing have to do with Mars?”

“What are lattice structures?”

The Additive Manufacturing Symposium heralded the start of the week of Science in the Age of Experience, as Dassault Systèmes invited a broad variety of experts to share the stage and discuss the latest in 3D printing / additive manufacturing / 3D software in a high-level gathering geared toward bringing focus to the maturation of the industry. 3D software — obviously a big focus for Dassault, which offers such caps-lock favorites as SOLIDWORKS, CATIA, and SIMULIA — is at the heart of the biggest advances out there. The entire Symposium wasn’t necessarily a Socratic exercise in question-and-answer format, but served as an important indicator that it isn’t just potential end users questioning advances and opportunities; that Dassault and its many partners are asking these questions shows the thought going into the products they create.

Sure, some of the questions — what are lattice structures? — may not seem high level on their own, but the what in each query quickly turned to a why, even down to Why are holes round? as additive manufacturing requires such a different way of thinking that all existing foundational ways of thinking must be reexamined. That a hole is round has rarely been a question looked into; but, for the future, does it still have to be round? When a hole is included in a design made additively, when a drill bit isn’t subtracting material in the trademark circle of such a process, it can be any shape; we’re just used to seeing circles because that’s what holes have always been when punched, drilled, or otherwise put into a previously-solid surface.

“Why are holes circular?” asked Penn State University’s Tim W. Simpson in his session focused on challenges and research opportunities in design for AM. “That’s how we’ve been making them. With drills.”

Simpson went on to examine directed energy deposition (DED) processes, which “allow for mixing materials all on a single component. The first challenge here is from a design standpoint: how do you design that? How do you certify that you got the right alloy at the right microstructure at the right place? This is causing companies to freak out about capabilities. But students don’t know what they can’t do; some have cobbled together four to five software packages to do this, and they get great designs, great geometries.”

This type of reexamination is key to the concept of thinking differently that underscores the next moves in design for additive manufacturing. The theme for the Symposium — From Concept to Production — focused mainly on those parts in the process between ideation and final creation. Topology optimization came up frequently, and not as a magical catch-all for the potential in designing components for additive manufacturing, but as a part of a very real process.

We hear a lot about topology optimization, and it’s very important for additive,” said Subham Sett, Director of Additive Manufacturing & Materials at SIMULIA at Dassault Systèmes. “One more point about design: it is important in real world applications. We are modeling for very complex physics. If you have an additive wing, you still need it to fly.

A 3D printed lattice design created by nTopology

Design at the computer can be a fairly cerebral endeavor, but the results of that close work with structural geometries will be tangible objects that need to stand up to real-world conditions and tolerances. Every step of the design process must ultimately keep that in mind — and that’s where simulation adds its greatest value. By simulating performance capabilities under given parameters, the entire prototyping process can be sped up by exposing 3D models to conditions prior to running physical prototypes through their paces. The latest simulation software offerings incorporate settings to run models of each design geometry through stress tests, as designers can see ahead of time how certain structures will withstand conditions to which the final product will be subjected, learning before pressing print where structurally weak areas will be and enhancing the design each step of the process.

Whether for an aircraft wing or for a latticed shoe structure, understanding performance qualities while a design is still in the 3D model stage allows for a smoothing of the entire production process. When a design finally is sent to a 3D printer, it will have already undergone several rounds of testing, streamlining the process and cutting costs in materials and production time — important considerations in any manufacturing process.

Through asking the right questions and reexamining long-held presumptions about the process, then testing the newest designs in software, additive manufacturing and its specific design pathway are moving ever closer toward full-scale realization in manufacturing across a variety of verticals. Discuss in the Dassault Systémes forum at

[Photos: Sarah Goehrke]


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