Literal Growth in 3D Printing with Live Parts: Details from Desktop Metal


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Last week at SOLIDWORKS World, the software platform became further enmeshed with additive manufacturing as a flurry of announcements introduced new collaborations, integrations, and offerings further tying SOLIDWORKS into the workstream of 3D printing. The spotlight on additive was intentional, as the SOLIDWORKS team told us, with a maturing technology featuring more heavily into more production environments. In addition to a heavy focus on 3D printing, keynotes and executives throughout SWW18 sought to encourage an exploration of new and different ways of thinking, often drawing from inspiration from nature and leveraging the capabilities of technology to go beyond what Mother Nature herself creates. Bringing these major themes together was an innovative introduction from metal 3D printing’s rising star, Desktop Metal.

The Boston-based company introduced Live Parts during a press conference, sharing the new generative design software designed to grow parts for additive manufacturing and integrate with SOLIDWORKS. There’s a lot to unpack from that single sentence; let’s start with information straight from the company, as Co-Founder and CTO Jonah Myerberg and Senior Software Engineer Andy Roberts provide a look at the software:

On-site in LA, I caught up later with the team for a better look into the new offering to understand just what they are presenting here, as DM Labs’ Live Parts is quite unlike any other software offering out there.

We’re becoming more familiar with generative design, which goes beyond the already-advanced concept of topology optimization to create optimized designs for production through a complex process in which, in layman’s terms, a design designs itself to meet optimal parameters. The process is behind the creation of designs unlike any we’d seen before for traditional subtractive manufacturing techniques, as machines ‘think’ differently than people do, and the best structuring may not be one that looks familiar to our thinking, especially with the new geometries made possible via additive manfuacturing. But Desktop Metal is looking beyond generative design as we’ve come to know it, and taking cues directly from nature.

“I had this idea that we could look at nature — not just biomimicry, but cellular growth,” Roberts, the creator of Live Parts, explained as he walked through a private demo at SWW18. “Live Parts grows parts as if they were living organisms. Seed cells grow toward goals, working with target loads, constantly updating to life in real time.”

He likened the process for Live Parts to the natural growth of a tree. If you look outside, you’ll note that no two trees have grown exactly the same way, despite being the same species and in the same environment; each is rooted in a unique patch of earth with its own specific topology. One tree may need to root around boulders while its neighbor has a clear path down to the dirt. Each root system adapts accordingly to anchor the tree, the braches of which grow out in their own unique configuration, balanced to the trunk and ready for the wind. The key inspiration lay in one primary consideration for Roberts: “In nature, no one sketches a tree, designs a tree, and puts it in place. Everything starts with cells that grow.”

Andy Roberts, Senior Software Engineer at Desktop Metal, demos Live Parts

And so with Live Parts, an engineer can define specific zones to dictate the growth of a part. The program works with voxels that function similarly to living cells, seeding out to targeted zones for growth. While not necessarily accounting for wind, such considerations for load and operating conditions are part of the program, which reacts to anticipated forces that will act on the part. The speed with which Live Parts reacts allows for a designer to interact with the design in real time, adjusting parameters and watching the design update accordingly.

“It can be set to handle different load types, defining differing types of forces. It’s constantly adapting to its environment. At any time you can export it, smooth it, ready it for production,” Roberts explained in the demo.

“We took inspiration from nature dealing with wind, which makes it stronger as a part. That’s better for the 3D printing process — it’s better to have parts resilient to nature.”

Watching the software in action was, frankly, a little trippy. The design did in fact grow itself, working out from seeds toward its goal, with voxels ‘dying off’ as they became unnecessary to the changing nature of the whole and reacting to the input parameters and loads.

The Desktop Metal team has been very clear that this software is in its infancy, and very much remains a product in development. It is available now for SOLIDWORKS subscribers to work with, and Roberts and his team at DM Labs welcome feedback as they continue to develop Live Parts. Ultimately, Roberts told me, “The idea is to run simulations in minutes, not hours,” as the software develops to a point of full functionality to ease the design for additive manufacture (DfAM) process to enhance ease and accessibility of the technology.

I sat down as well with company CEO and Co-Founder Ric Fulop to talk about the introduction of Live Parts.

“It’s a cool product. Look at this room,” he said, indicating the spacious exhibitor space at the LACC. “It’s all straight lines and columns. In the future, you’ll be able to print the construction. I can’t wait to see how it looks then.”

We caught up as well on the company itself, discussing his vision for Desktop Metal and the latest developments.

“We have been selling a lot of machines. We’ve made a lot of progress on the Production System, though our focus right now is on getting the Studio System out,” he told me. The Studio System began shipping at the end of 2017. “We’re also doing a lot in software. Now our focus is on Live Parts. We have pretty strong software chops.”

I had my first demo of Desktop Metal’s software for their systems at last year’s RAPID + TCT event, and the focus continues on developing targeted solutions for their users. Along with software, Desktop Metal has been focusing on its intellectual property, with two patents being issued last month. IP is important to the ongoing growth of new technologies, in particular for metal 3D printing. As SOLIDWORKS CEO Gian Paolo Bassi noted at the Live Parts press conference, “It takes a lot of intellectual property to make it right.” And Desktop Metal wants to get it right.

“Our core competency is in making tools easier to use, and here for the first time we have a really easy-to-use tool, launching with the number one market share leader in mechanical engineering,” Fulop told me, touching on the partnership with SOLIDWORKS and its parent company Dassault Systèmes.

“SOLIDWORKS puts on an incredible show, it’s awesome to see people run in when they enter. We’re excited about our partnership with Dassault, and there’s a rich raodmap of features to come. They have many products other than SOLIDWORKS, and we hope to add more capabilities in them.”

The enthusiasm seemed to go both ways, as — as usual — the Desktop Metal booth was packed with visitors throughout the show. SOLIDWORKS users are becoming more exposed to additive manufacturing, and the interest particularly in metal 3D printing capabilities is high. The energy at SOLIDWORKS World is always high; Fulop noted the running, and other journalists and I appreciated the applause and genuine excitement that greeted announcements and speakers throughout the crowded general sessions each morning.

Bringing a new take on software to a software conference absolutely caused a buzz at SWW, and the in-development Live Parts appears to be one that will be gaining traction as it continues to progress toward a full release. With more to come from Desktop Metal, and more to emerge in the future through the collaboration with  Dassault Systèmes, we’ll be keeping close watch on the growth of metal 3D printing — and the literal growth possible through Live Parts.

Focus on 3D printing at SWW18: Ric Fulop, CEO of Desktop Metal; VJ, CEO of 3D Systems; and Simon Fried, Co-Founder and President, Nano Dimension USA

You can sign up for access to a Live Parts technology preview here.

Discuss generative design, biomimicry, Desktop Metal, SOLIDWORKS, and other 3D printing topics at or share your thoughts in the Facebook comments below. 

[All photos: Sarah Goehrke / gif and video provided by Desktop Metal]



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