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2022 Predictions: 3D Printing Software Experts Weigh in

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Software is moving into the driving seat as the competition heats up. More startups and market entry by large companies is broadly predicted. Still, as a user, I have to deal with a fragmented tool chain. I’d love to see a more interconnected suite of solutions that work together well. I’d love for industrial and desktop both to be much simpler. I made a little chart the other day of all of the steps to get from idea to part and it was too nuts to even present here.

It’s been a number of years since people started to popularize the idea of “right-click print” in additive manufacturing (AM), so far without resounding success. Will 2022 be the year that we make good on our collective promises? I believe that we’ll make some steps, but in enterprises and universities, better tools are needed to manage print farms, while truly enterprise-ready AM collaboration and management software will have to become more prevalent, as well. Broadly, I think we can all agree that this will be a key year for software in 3D printing.

Bas De Jong was one of the people sent in to clean house and make something coherent of Ultimaker and now is CCO at the 3D printing software firm 3YOURMIND. He shared his thoughts for the coming year.

“Companies in the AM space have to work together to develop the market. The growth is not as high as previously anticipated. Customers need help to find more applications and realize a sound business case for AM. Software plays an important role to automate this process. 3YOURMIND works with partners, like printer manufacturers, service bureaus and value-added resellers, to help customers find more AM applications and accelerate growth. Once there are plenty of parts to print, the next step for customers is to think about how to optimize their supply chain processes.”

I think that the wake up call is much needed, as is collaboration. We often see companies willing to try everything alone, but, in reality, you need everyone’s expertise to make this work.

Andre Wegner is the Founder of MES firm Authentise, which manages the 3D  printing manufacturing workflows for some of the world’s largest companies. Wegner’s thoughts about the software space were as follows:

“Exciting to have seen some seriously impressive point solutions come to the fore in 2021 (generative design, visual inspection, etc). Now, we have to integrate them. And not by making them all come from the same company (move over “walled garden”), but through platforms. Doing so will allow us, for example, to deploy existing solutions like simulation in more places, which give us more reliable products. Standards bodies also have a role to play in defining interfaces between those apps to make those platforms more open. Encouraging signs on the demand side too. Big companies ran RFPs for digital infrastructure for AM in the last few years. We need to see those maturing into successful solutions to have example case studies of real integrated digital threads. Once we do, new opportunities for point solutions that benefit from contextual data will emerge. That will likely take longer than 2022. But it’s worth the wait. Imagine algorithms that take contextual data to predict better parameters, for example.”

Here, Andre echos the “3D printing is a team sport” idea that Bas also has. I’m distrustful of platform strategies generally, but do believe in the “all together idea.” Standards in software is going to be crucial as is the openness of software. I really think that an algorithmic approach to data management and improvement could be the defining opportunity in AM.

Enrico Gallino is a Senior Engineer and Materials Specialist at Ricoh. He has a material coating PhD and is a materials scientist, as well as a chemical engineer. He’s just the type of renaissance man we need in AM and also sees an important place for software in the entire process.

“Hopefully, there will be more development towards software solutions that streamline workflows, enable material and parts traceability and automate repetitive tasks with better integration with existing enterprise softwares to further enable the use of AM for serial production,” Gallino said. “We are also working on the development of our metal binder jetting technology and we definitely see 2022 as the year where more accurate and powerful software solutions will be developed in order to better predict part shrinkage and distortion during sintering to further accelerate the adoption of binder jet as a technology for serial production.”

Integration here is a super important point. For a large firm, we have to play well with whatever they have and people often see 3D printing as an island but we’re an asteroid cruising past a star system of legacy software and processes. The key air break on binder jet is indeed on the ability to accurately account for and ameliorate part shrinkage, which is different at different geometry sizes, shapes, and wall thickness. Solving this key challenge can instantly transform our market.

Albert Falck is owner and founder of reseller Lay3rs 3dprinting and AMPC Solutions BV, a company that makes automated print farm solutions, as well as cabinets for reducing printer emissions.

“I hope to see more integration of materials and slicer software simulation to get it ‘first time right.’  3D printer hardware with predictable quality output would be the holy grail to move from prototyping to customized end-use products,” Falck said. “Getting design for additive manufacturing in place will help speed up the whole process. I expect software such as AMFG and 3YOURMIND will have a huge impact on implementing AM on an industrial scale. These software tools to manage your digital factory will be absolutely necessary and would I expect, in 2022, to see more software on the market addressing that need.”

I really like that Albert is focused on using desktop 3D printers to manufacture. A lot of the industrial folks forget about the desktop and a lot of desktop people forget about industrial printers, but the two will meet somewhere and compete head on in the years to come.

Stefaan Motte heads Materialise‘s software business, the Belgian company that has completely dominated the workflows of 3D printing for 30 years.

“If we’re looking at software for smart factories, I always like to talk about “Plan, Do, Check and Learn”. Software should support age-old cycles of planning a process, executing on that process, and managing QA to guarantee that this process is apt. These are all required, but it is the learning step in this sequence that can make the difference,” Motte said. “The software platforms that will manage Industry 4.0 Factories worldwide will let you learn so that every production run can be better than the next. One that can unify all of the data of all of the available sources using AI, insights, process knowledge, and specific knowledge from experts. This will be software that can let a manufacturing firm learn on a continual cycle.”

As a complete but tight vision, I love Stefaan’s approach. By focusing on learning within the entire process, I think a lot of value can be unlocked by firms.

The final model, compensated for displacement during printing. Image courtesy of Autodesk.

Alexander Oster almost singlehandedly coded Netfabb before moving to head Additive Manufacturing software at Autodesk. Oster told 3DPrint.com:

“We are seeing more and more of a focus of producers on custom process parameter development that is specifically tuned for a given application, geometry, and non-standard alloys. And this comes with a new (maybe forced) openness of machine OEMs to let their customers look more and more into the box. Maybe we will even see some industrial machine startups go largely open source in 2022 in order to differentiate themselves.“

I would love for industrial firms to consider open source modalities! But the forces at work here are interesting to note. Diversity in outputs and inputs will bring more openness or sharing on the side of OEMs. This topic and more will be discussed at the Additive Manufacturing Strategies 2022 summit this coming March 1-3, where GE Additive is the vertical sponsor for our “Automation, Rapid Manufacturing and Software”. All in all, I think that 2022 will be a breakthrough year for software as we will see consolidation, interoperability and increased competition.

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