As anticipated by the “Automation, Additive Manufacturing and the Factory of the Future” report from SmarTech Analysis, the digital manufacturing thread is started to come together, connecting various parts of the production workflow. The latest development in this trend is the release of the new CONNECT3D software from PostProcess Technologies. In addition to offering users greater insight into and control over their finishing equipment, the platform is meant to make the firm’s post-processing systems open to auxiliary software and hardware tools within a manufacturing ecosystem.
PostProcess offers a number of smart technologies for finishing 3D printed parts. This includes hardware systems for support removal, resin removal and surface polishing, as well as the chemicals necessary to perform these processes. It has also developed a software, dubbed AUTOMAT3D, that executes the above procedures in an optimized manner. CONNECT3D is the next step in the company’s portfolio, as it makes it possible to manage this workflow and more.
CONNECT3D is a software that creates post-processing chemical recipes and finishing times dependent on the part itself. In addition to this smart part processing ability, the software can be used to control PostProcess equipment remotely. Jobs can be planned and scheduled, with remote monitoring and admin management allowing users to track tasks from anywhere. It’s also possible to receive text or email notifications, including alerts and alarms, as well as access historical data. For enterprises, this can be expanded to include role-based user administration, license management, and built-in security.
The basic elements of the software mean that users will be able to more easily control a growing fleet of PostProcess machines. The real potential, however, is in the ability to connect with third party equipment and apps. With an open architecture, CONNECT3D is designed to work with factory automation systems and third-party software to link these various tools to its own post-processing technology.
As PostProcess’s ecosystem grows, with customers developing solutions, the company’s technology should be more easily integrated into real production environments. We can imagine service bureaus or parts manufacturers with fleets of machines incorporating their finishing equipment into existing manufacturing execution systems (MES) software, print management software, and CAD applications. CONNECT3D could also enable industrial robotics to move parts from printers to post-processing machines.
“With the introduction of the CONNECT3D platform, PostProcess is using data analytics and machine learning to improve the performance of its full-stack solutions.” wrote Tugce Uslu, Analyst in Lux Research’s profile for PostProcess. “PostProcess recognizes the necessity of unifying printing and post-printing processes into an end-to-end solution. Its software is one of the main differentiators of the company as it focuses on end-to-end process optimization using AI. This positions PostProcess as one of the leaders in automated post-processing technology.”
“Our CONNECT3D Additive Manufacturing Platform sets the stage for the industry’s next step-function advancement in additive manufacturing,” stated Rich Caplow, PostProcess VP of Product. “Today in additive manufacturing data is captured and connected in the design and printing phases, but the digital thread for a 3D part is cut off prior to its final finished stage. CONNECT3D links the finishing, or post-printing stage, to the part’s digital thread to unify the complete workflow.”
The new platform naturally comes from a desire by industrial 3D printing users for smarter, more integrated solutions. We can assume, then, that some of PostProcess’s larger clients most likely drove this development so that they could use the firm’s finishing equipment in their own operations. Or we can consider that the industry as a whole is moving in this direction.
After all, Sigma Labs and AMFG have just partnered up to connect Sigma’s quality control platform to AMFG’s MES tools. AMT, another post-processing equipment maker, is working with Mitsubishi Electric on the use of robotic arms for part conveyance. This is just the beginning, as we will certainly see firms like PrintParts and AM-Flow link their unique technologies to elements within the broader factory environment.
All of these individual pieces are important. For instance, post-processing equipment is key to getting parts off of the printer and to the customer. However, the uniting factor in all of the above examples is actually the software. Though CONNECT3D will enable PostProcess to fit into production operations, the real fiber in the digital thread is the MES software. This is the tool that really makes it possible to link the various aspects of 3D printing operations to one another and to the factory floor. It’s no wonder then that, out of the very few MES developers out there, almost half have been acquired.
CONNECT3D is now available as an annual subscription service. To learn more, visit the PostProcess booth, P25, at the Additive Manufacturing Users Group (AMUG) conference in Chicago, Illinois, April 3 to 7. There, the software will be available for a live demonstration.
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