Software packages that support 3D printing are advancing rapidly and have become incredibly powerful and complex in the last decade or so. While a number of companies offering software solutions that support 3D printing have increased exponentially in the recent past, established players like Autodesk are doing their best to push limits on technology in this space. We are probably headed towards a time where advancements in artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning would help make software packages that support 3D printing intuitive and easy to use – both for commercial design and for personal use.
We caught up with Diego Tamburini, Senior Manufacturing Industry Strategist at Autodesk who, in an exclusive interview, examines the evolution of software packages that support 3D printing and offers tips to professionals looking to make a career in Additive Manufacturing. Below is our interview in full:
Could you give us a quick introduction about yourself? What do you do at Autodesk?
“My name is Diego Tamburini. I am the Sr. Industry Strategist for Design & Manufacturing. I track the industry and identify the trends and needs of the industry to help define the vision and strategy for Autodesk in manufacturing. I am also an evangelist of Autodesk’s thought leadership in the industry by delivering talks, writing, and engaging with the media and industry analysts.”
The software packages used for 3D printing have evolved greatly in the last couple of years; please let us know your thoughts on that.
“Absolutely! At the beginning, the gap between what you could design and what you could 3D print was pretty wide (i.e., not everything you could design could be 3D printed, and not everything you could 3D print could be designed). In addition, the process involved multiple steps and software solutions. We have made significant progress closing that gap, and moving more and more towards a ‘push-button 3D printing’ goal: where you just click ‘Print’ from your CAD software, select the printer, and the part gets printed exactly as it shows in the screen.
But more fundamentally, 3D printing offers an opportunity to rethink design itself – to make parts with geometries that were just not feasible before. As such, we are evolving design to be more targeted to additive and take advantage of its unique capabilities, resulting in geometries that significantly reduce weight and are more organic, beautiful and interesting at the same time.”
How do you envision the software packages that would be used, say in a decade from now, would be different from the ones popular presently? How do you see this space evolve and the technology trends in this space?
“We believe that design software will evolve from being just a tool that you tell it what to do, to being more of a collaborator that you tell what you want. Design will be more about specifying requirements, goals and constraints, and less about specifying geometry. With the use of generative techniques, AI and machine learning, and natural language processing, design software will take our requirements and generate the best design, optimized for weight, stiffness, heat transfer, or any other parameters we want.
Also, I think that hybrid manufacturing (the combination of 3D printing for near-shape geometries with subtractive for final finishing) has a lot of potential. Currently, this process is achieved by separate software solutions and manufacturing equipment. These will eventually merge into a truly hybrid one.”
What are some of the challenges you see in the adoption of 3D printing software packages? How do you think these would be overcome?
A number of people don’t necessarily draw (and even if they do doing so in a digital format might be very inconvenient!). Do you have any advice or tips you might want to share with the readers who are presently grappling with similar issues?
“Currently, 3D printing is not a ‘push button’ experience yet (as mentioned above). There is still a lot of ‘black art’ and trial-and-error involved (tweaking the geometry, orientation, materials, printing process, factoring for material deformation during cooling, etc.). In addition, parts rarely come out of the 3D printer ready to use; they almost always require some cleanup and post-processing. And 3D printing still has some technical limitations when it comes to speed, finish, materials options, and print sizes. But there are many hardware and software vendors highly motivated to close these gaps, so it’s just a matter of time until they do.”
“I think this question is specific to consumer 3D printing (i.e., people who want to 3D print parts for personal use or fun). Modeling in 3D will increasingly move from the professionals to the consumers (as an example, take a look at Microsoft’s 3D Builder). In addition, you don’t necessarily have to create the models that you will be 3D printing yourself; there is already a lot of 3D content available for you to download. For kids growing up playing Minecraft, 3D modeling will be a natural thing. I think that ten years from now, people will be as familiar with 3D content as they are today with digital photographs.”
Do you have any tips for students and aspiring entrepreneurs looking to make it big in the 3D printing industry?
“Students: become familiar with 3D printing, download a CAD solution (such as Autodesk Tinkercad or Fusion 360, which are completely free for students) and start designing and 3D printing stuff. Take design project classes, or participate in design competitions that give you the opportunity to get exposure to 3D printing. Join a Makerspace in your school or community.
For aspiring entrepreneurs: it largely depends on what they will chose to focus on (design of 3D printed products, software to design 3D-printable products, 3D printing hardware, 3D printing materials, etc.). But, generally speaking, I’d recommend exploiting the unique capabilities of 3D printing (i.e., stuff that wasn’t possible without it – complex, organic geometries, customization, combined materials); think revolutionarily instead of evolutionarily. Look into anything that closes the gap between design and 3D printing. Consider getting into 3D printing of circuits. There is also a lot of opportunity in solutions that allow the average consumer take advantage of 3D printing in their daily lives (for example, 3D print replacement parts for their home appliances). There is also a lot of opportunity and excitement for 3D printing in fashion (garments, accessories, shoes).”
What are your concluding thoughts on how you see the 3D printing industry evolve in the future? How can teams developing software packages brace themselves for rapid changes in the industry?
“I believe that 3D printing will continue to expand and move into final production. Its current limitations (speed, finish, accuracy, size, materials options) will be overcome within the decade. It will eventually find its sweet spot and establish itself as the process to make complex, high value, highly customized, low volume products. 3D printing will coexist with subtractive manufacturing and complement each other. As far as developing design software, it is more about developing new capabilities to design for 3D printing, as opposed to trying to retrofit traditional tools for 3D printing.”
With insights like the above provided by Diego, we are further assured that professionals and entrepreneurs are keeping an eye on exciting new developments in the 3D printing software space. Autodesk’s progress with generative design and other advanced technologies will continue to advance possibilities in design for additive manufacturing (DfAM) as the industry grows.