SIMULIA Team Discusses Deeper Holistic Integration as the Way Forward for Additive Manufacturing


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Part of the deep disappointment experienced in the crash from the hype days of 3D printing traced back to Star Trek expectations being dashed; while technically a 3D printer does fabricate an object at the push of a button, a lot of work comes before hitting ‘print.’ The process isn’t so much treating a desktop machine as a make-something-from-nothing version of Alexa and ordering up some tea with a quick voice command as it is a series of sometimes very complicated steps; there’s conception, design, slicing, material considerations, setting print parameters, ensuring connectivity, the actual print job… and then post-processing. Each step might take minutes, hours, or even days, often seeming to undercut additive manufacturing’s reputation as being an incredible time saver. It can be, of course, significantly faster than traditional subtractive manufacturing, but the process can in most cases stand for some optimizing to see to a smoother workflow. How do we connect more of the development of a design? The team behind Dassault Systèmes SIMULIA software have some ideas, as they shared with me at the recent 3DEXPERIENCE Forum held last week in Hollywood, Florida.

As expressed throughout the forum, platform thinking is inherent to Dassault Systèmes’ approach to technology today and moving into future advances; an integrated suite of offerings in the 3DEXPERIENCE platform provides a variety of solutions throughout the workflow for any number of manufacturing methods. I had the opportunity to sit down with Sumanth Kumar, Vice President, SIMULIA: Strategy, Market Development and Marketing, and Subham Sett, Director of Additive Manufacturing and Materials at SIMULIA during the event for a conversation about integrated efforts at Dassault Systèmes. It was great to catch up again with Kumar and Sett, whom I last encountered in Chicago at this spring’s Additive Manufacturing Symposium and Science in the Age of Experience event. 

Sumanth Kumar (L) and Subham Sett at the 3DEXPERIENCE Forum [Photo: Sarah Goehrke]

The two experienced members of the SIMULIA team noted that they are focused on a few initiatives, including the creation of a fully integrated strategic approach.

“I’m responsible for strategy and marketing, as part of our market development efforts, and focusing on a few initiatives including the Living Heart project; for additive manufacturing, Subham leads that initiative,” Kumar told me.

“We are looking for a holistic solution including design, manufacturing, and simulation all on the same platform. We set out a goal about 17 months ago that we wanted to double up products and solutions that cater to the entire lifecycle from design to post-processing. We’re very proud that now we can deliver products today on the 3DEXPERIENCE platform. In a nutshell, our strategy that we envision does not remain a strategy — we want to implement it in terms of solutions. We also have some customers using our solutions.”

Scott Harris, Virtual Reality Systems Expert, slices through the simulated heart for a better virtual look [Photo: Sarah Goehrke]

The Living Heart project has been a big point of focus for the team at Dassault Systèmes as simulation allows for a close, patient-specific look into anatomy beneficial for patient and healthcare provider alike. As Karl D’Souza, Virtual Human Modeling Product Manager at Dassault Systèmes, and Senior Solutions Consultant for Virtual Heart Modeling, explained as well, through SIMULIA technology and the 3DEXPERIENCE platform, this project brings together different areas into one integrated offering expanding through collaborative efforts. This collaborative, platform approach extends as well to additive manufacturing.

When we started this journey about 18 months ago, the realization in front of us was that there are many disjointed pieces in additive,” Sett said, taking up the narrative. “It’s not that people weren’t doing these, but it was taking a long time to go from concept to producing a part. When we got together across all the different brands, we realized that as Dassault Systèmes we have all the products and technologies to kind of game change for additive. Instead of these disparate tools, we could bring the integration down to a deeper level where the user and engineer can work with these tools.”

By addressing connectivity, Sett explained, the team could bring together design, simulation, and production.

“At the same time, we started going deep into the connectivity. If you’re thinking of lightweighting, that’s topology optimization. Taking topology optimization results and making it manufacturable required a huge step… now we have topology optimization in a native design environment, and so these results are already ready for a designer to put in,” he said.

[Image: Dassault Systèmes]

In looking at both the design and manufacturing sides, the SIMULIA team noted the broad benefits of topology optimization. Integrating this capability into an easier-to-use environment allows for a designer to consider bringing this aspect into their workflow — a consideration they may not have turned to previously, as without native integration it may have seemed “too clunky.” Sett continued, noting that for the manufacturing side, they came up with a support structure strategy to enhance the process of preparing a build tray.

“We essentially look at additive as a manufacturing process, which is driven by the material and the process, not necessarily focused on metals or polymers,” he said of the overall mindset before turning to the simulation take. “This framework gives the user the choice to decide what process they’re simulating, what material they need, and the intersection between these and the manufacturing coming to look at the part quality at the end.”

[Image: Dassault Systèmes]

Regardless of how much simulation is undertaken ahead of actual production, Sett noted, there will still be distortions as each of these processes are ultimately heat-based. Understanding the properties of each technology at hand, however, can ensure that final parts will still be produced in tolerance, and this is based on experience. All of these technologies, he said, “whether design, simulation, or manufacturing, are based on products that have existed in the market for 20 to 30 years.” What had been lacking from that heritage position, though, had been the “ability to connect from a model perspective and a technology perspective — and that’s the gap we addressed.”

Rather than trying to reinvent the wheel in simulation, Sett noted, the SIMULIA team sought to work toward “the tool to make it easier for people to use our tools.” This vision emerged two to three years ago, and now is in the hands of clients worldwide. Customers are already adopting the solutions available across the platform, which Sett described as “pretty exciting for us.”

“Are we stopping there? No,” he continued. “It’s one thing to get products out, but the next is to make sure people trust the results. We have research partners across the globe, so we are extending what simulations can do.”

Following the details Sett provided, Kumar continued into a larger-picture view of what the team is hoping to achieve. He noted that everything is built upon the “very good technology” they have developed and have had on the market for some time now.

“Looking at it from a holistic perspective, what we are able to do with additive manufacturing is take the solution not only to businesses, but to consumers,” he told me, describing the initiative as being very exciting to the team.

“We are able to expand the scope of the users we cater to; traditionally we have catered to analysts, to specialists, to people who know structural mechanics and dynamic analysis very well. With our additive manufacturing solution, we are able to go to manufacturing engineers — to folks that work on quality control — really expanding the user base for whom we can serve.”

Solutions, Sett continued, are available on the cloud, offering flexibility for users and organizations of all sizes.

“One question from additive manufacturing engineers is: Why should I care about simulation?” Sett noted of the integration process.

“For the last 40 years, our tools have been used to validate a part. Whatever we’ve done on the manufacturing side is part of our native solutions, allowing user to go from the manufacturing environment to a full deployment environment. This ensures production not just for the sake of production, production for the sake of performance, when it goes live — in a car, in a plane, inside someone’s home. We’re looking at manufacturing in the context of deployment, not just as it’s running off the assembly line.”

[Image: Dassault Systèmes]

Context and integration are two of the biggest keys to SIMULIA’s strategy in moving additive manufacturing forward. On the technology side, Sett noted that materials science is critical as applications continue to advance. Lightweighting possible via 3D printing is an attractive quality bringing many manufacturers, particularly those in the weight-sensitive aerospace and automotive sectors, to the technology, and working with the right materials is a necessary focus to ensure strength in new geometries. Newer methods — Sett noted printed electronics and the consideration of fluid conditions around a part — additionally impact the physical considerations.

“Lightweighted components through additive as newer methods come in,” he explained, “have the multiphysics technologies to not just look at additive in the context of lightweighting, but in the physics of flow in build environment, necessitating much more realistic predictions of how the part will print. Printing takes time; if you can avoid some of the trial and error that takes place by running predictive simulations, you can short circuit the time the machine is used only for R&D versus time the machine is used for production.”

In manufacturing, as we all know, time is money; any time shaved off the product development and serial production processes will lead to greater opportunity for a profitable go-to-market strategy.

[Image: Dassault Systèmes]

We discussed some of the applications perspective, where Sett touched on a few broad categories. During the spring’s Science in the Age of Experience Event, he and Kumar had presented a view from HP using their technology to calibrate Multi Jet Fusion technology as part of the conversation surrounding development of the manufacturing process itself. Moving beyond this comes the part level, where any part designed for additive must print well at the end of the process. Looking at the production of the part, Sett said, is where most of the interest of SIMULIA’s user base lies — “especially in aerospace and defense, with life sciences following closely, and automotive taking interest in what needs to be done.”

“The qualifier is talking about functional parts, not prototyping,” he underscored. “Prototyping has been there for a while and is not where we see our interest.”

Particularly in terms of life science, production processes are in the spotlight. The 3DEXPERIENCE Forum highlighted use cases such as that of Paris- and Boston-based BIOMODEX, and the company’s CEO filled me in on functional 3D printing benefiting his company’s strategy.

Other areas that Sett and Kumar highlighted as growing applications are low-volume tooling and design optimization taking material distribution into account by part function. To illustrate this latter area, Sett pointed to the work adidas is doing with Carbon in bringing a shoe to market with a 3D printed midsole. The lattice structure of this midsole has more density in areas that require more support, and less dense in regions where the foot will have less contact, a very specific sort of design made possible via careful execution in optimization and work with the latest 3D printing technology.

SIMULIA examines what Kumar noted as 14 or 15 different additive manufacturing processes in their work. Sett explained that their “solutions are set up to be agnostic of the process.”

“Almost all manufacturing processes have been tested and validated using our software,” Sett told me. “This is another differentiator we have: our simulation framework is general purpose. It doesn’t distinguish between metal or polymer or FDM or PolyJet; it is the user who looks at what we have and, depending on material and process, can use simulation technology… In a way, we have the flexibility to allow the user to choose what process they use to allow the user to choose what material they’ll develop and develop their own IP.”

[Image: Dassault Systèmes]

One area of rising user feedback the SIMULIA team is hearing more frequently is in materials development. Solutions are, Sett said, catered to any material type and users have been “relying on technology we’ve been developing for 40 years for material development; the only difference here is it’s being developed for additive now.”

Kumar neatly wrapped up our conversation with a summary of where the team is and where they are looking ahead for the next developments:

“What we are really excited about is the strategy laid out for Dassault Systèmes additive manufacturing solutions coming to fruition with the right technology on the platform. Along with that, the solutions we are providing are also cloud solutions, which helps a lot of folks from SMEs to large enterprises to leverage these solutions we are providing. Finally having all the aspects of additive manufacturing starting from design all the way through to manufacturing, planning, and, simulation all on the same platform is very unique; this is something I’m hoping we can build on. There’s still work to do, it’s not complete — and we believe we’’e on the bleeding edge of additive manufacturing in providing the solution. We’ll continue to work in this domain and area.”

As Dassault Systèmes continues to bring additive manufacturing into focus, we’ll be keeping in close touch with the team across its platform of offerings. From conversations with the SIMULIA team to an in-depth in-person detailing of the latest updates to SOLIDWORKS, from visiting the company’s North American headquarters to attending events like the 3DEXPERIENCE Forum, Science in the Age of Experience, and SOLIDWORKS World, we’ll continue to learn more about the latest platform approaches and 3D printing solutions to come from one of the best-known portfolios in software today.

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