While much of the news to emerge from last week’s thunderous formnext in Frankfurt was released, or at least suggested, ahead of the tumult of the event itself, some could not be made until the final signatures were on the last of the paperwork. During the show itself, Utah-based 3DSIM formally announced its acquisition by Pennsylvania-based ANSYS, a leading supplier of simulation software, bringing together a fuller solution in simulation for additive manufacturing. As metal 3D printing in particular continues to develop at a fast pace, simulation tools allow for the reduction of failed prints and for the optimization of design; companies like Additive Industries have adopted 3DSIM’s targeted simulation tools to enhance productivity. During formnext, integration of simulation software companies, including this agreement and GE Additive’s acquisition of GeonX, showcased the importance of simulation for metal additive manufacturing.
Both 3DSIM and ANSYS have recently introduced additional tools, including the former’s commercial release of exaSIM ULTIMATE for metal 3D printing and the latter’s real-time ANSYS Discover Live tool. As a combined force, the two companies’ offerings will present a more complete solution for users. The day after the acquisition was finalized, I sat down in Frankfurt with Brent Stucker, 3DSIM CEO, to discuss the agreement and what it means for the company and, overall, for industry impact.
“We just closed yesterday; this is huge for us,” Stucker told me. “ANSYS is the most successful simulation company in the world. It’s a natural fit for us; we have the additive manufacturing simulation, they have the engineering. It’s a perfect merger for what we do with what they wanted to do in additive manufacturing.”
He continued, “What we’re excited about with ANSYS is expanding the ways people have access to simulation in additive manufacturing. Integrating our additive manufacturing solution into their leading simulation tools — we have predictive capabilities to add that had been the missing puzzle pieces for process-affecting geometries, for microstructures. From geometry to final part performance, this offers prediction in one platform that can support the needs of the user.”
3DSIM formed almost four years ago, Stucker said, at a time when forming such a targeted business was a gamble in more than a few aspects. For one, Stucker personally came from a background in academia; leaving that profession after 18 years of ladder climbing was a risk.
“People couldn’t believe I would leave when I was reaching the pinnacle of the ivory tower; but it was a risk worth taking, I thought,” he said.
“We could change the trajectory of the additive manufacturing industry. Almost four years later, seeing it happen, and integrating with the biggest simulation company in the world — it’s very satisfying. We can truly support any customer anywhere in the world. This leapfrogs us from a small company with great technology to great technology that can get into people’s hands worldwide; we went form a small player to a global player instantly.”
Integrating with a larger partner was another running theme during formnext, as acquisitions can serve to advance technology more rapidly and partnerships with the right companies can speed the development of technologies and materials in use.
For its part, 3DSIM formed at a time when “people weren’t resistant” to the idea of dedicated 3D printing simulation — but “they didn’t believe we’d ever really get there,” Stucker said. As technologies and real-world applications have continued to advance, however, he pointed out that “we are seeing skepticism turning into adoption.”
As 3DSIM’s simulation technologies have made it into the world and into regular use, Stucker pointed to an important base for feedback: early customers.
“Our alpha and beta customers are our best salespeople. They never run a part until running 3DSIM simulation,” he said. “What’s been exciting for me is people seeing these products, seeing them adopt technologies and really understanding solutions that are away from build-and-fail, build-and-fail trial and error — it’s satisfying to see that start to get into people’s hands.”
The ANSYS announcement at the show drew great interest to 3DSIM, and at formnext Stucker and his team were kept busy talking with machine manufacturers, with partners, with interested parties from a variety of businesses. In order to create the desired “seamless experience for the user,” Stucker noted, it’s important to understand the industry inside and out — including the specifics of the hardware on the market, so the software understands all dynamics at play.
“To get the physics right, we need to know what each machine will do. We put each machine’s geometry into the system, the logic system in each manufacturer’s software — we find that the different logic in each energy profile slightly changes parameters, which changes results. We needed to load profiles and simulate exactly into that logic, to give customers machine-specific, part-specific simulation, to build in every profile. This is our unique technology, we have spent eight years building this,” Stucker told me.
“The value ANSYS saw in us is developing new answers to physics problems, and putting these into the ANSYS platform for a complete solution for industry.”
At formnext, many visitors who came to talk to 3DSIM were already users of ANSYS solutions, affirming the overlap of use for the integration.
“Machine manufacturers, partners, customers — they all say they already use ANSYS. This is what we already intuitively knew, and we’re seeing this right here on the show floor,” he said.
“Our company’s first value is that people matter,” Stucker said, getting down to what really matters for technology — the users.
“We break it down to: our customers matter, as people; our employees matter, as people. This fits well with ANSYS’ values, as they have a heavy focus on benefits to people. Their CEO says that our job is to make our customers’ lives better — and that’s the best thing I see. For me, the biggest aspect is seeing people say, ‘You’re making my life better, you’ve removed my headache.’ I think engineers’ job is to to make lives better — and simulation makes engineers’ lives better, too.”
As 3DSIM integrates into ANSYS, the vision is to create a full portfolio put together to help the additive manufacturing industry, Stucker told me. 3DSIM will maintain operations in Utah, as well as its organizational structure — in fact, the company will be hiring more. In man-years, 3DSIM already brings more than 100 years of additive manufacturing experience into its operations, offering ANSYS “that specific expertise to utilize.” ANSYS has, Stucker pointed out, “three major tech focuses,” all “heavy in computation engineering.” 3DSIM will bring its expertise in additive manufacturing to that focus, and ANSYS additionally focuses on digital twin and autonomous vehicle technologies.
Discuss formnext 2017, and other 3D printing topics, at 3DPrintBoard.com or share your thoughts in the Facebook comments below.[formnext photos: Sarah Goehrke]