AMS Speaker Spotlight: Gain Added Trust in 3D Printing with Virtual Twins


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Scott Sevcik, A&D Strategy Director at Dassault Systemes, will be participating in the Software and Automation Panel 3: Automation, AM, and the Factory of the Future at the Additive Manufacturing Strategies Networking Business Summit.

Despite the hype, the utility of additive manufacturing (AM) for production continues to advance slowly, but software capabilities are often the ignored key enablers to accelerate production adoption.

With a legacy in prototyping, the process of 3D printing wasn’t necessarily important, only the end-result.  The goal was to represent a part early in design that would later be manufactured with a different technology.  As such, the software needs were minimal.  You were designing and simulating a part to be produced with a different technology, so all you really wanted was a “print” button that would use a rapid prototyping processes to automatically create the thing you needed.  Time spent on optimization or specialization was wasted time.  The only unique software was a slicer to translate the geometry you were replicating into machine commands.

As the value of 3D printing for creation of an end item, be it a tool or a production part, began to be explored, the need for advancement in software capabilities came to the forefront. The most obvious advancements were the development of generative design and topology optimization in order to fully exploit the design freedom of AM. But design isn’t really the constraint holding back broader adoption of AM.  AM adoption is being constrained, in aerospace and defense at least, by lack of trust in the technology. Software can play a key role in addressing this constraint and bringing the value of AM fully into the factory of the future.

Trust the Process

To qualify a new process or technology for a high requirements industry, the people who put their name (and perhaps their company) on the line need to have high confidence that they fully understand the process and the inherent risks.  As a result, process simulation for AM is key.  A virtual twin of a printing process enables a full understanding of how a part will be produced and the potential for defect introduction.  While this can allow for part design to be improved to eliminate warpage or for the build strategy to be improved to maximize intra-layer bonding, the most significant value is enhanced confidence that the process is yielding the parts with the intended properties.

There’s a further opportunity though.  Simulating the base-level physics of the process should allow machine OEMs to introduce new materials faster and at higher performance levels as well as develop new generations of equipment to optimize a well understood and virtually represented process.  The result would be more relevant, and fully characterized, materials and quicker machine improvements to market.

Trust the Part

Where the process isn’t trusted, the default engineering response is to add a safety factor.  In the case of AM, where light weighting is often a primary value, adding an unnecessary factor of safety can significantly degrade the value of moving to AM because you are saving less weight then you should and using more material.  As a result, you aren’t getting a lighter part and it costs too much.

Simulations of parts made using a variety of techniques.

To have confidence in the part performance, a well-validated simulation tool can be used.  In most other manufacturing technologies, robust simulation exists, but because AM for production is still relatively small, the available additive-specific toolsets remain limited.  Utilizing a validated and robust simulation solution that fully characterizes the micro/mezzo structure of the part gives engineers the opportunity to virtually test configurations before locking in an overly conservative part.

Leverage the Virtual Twin

Creating virtual twins for the printing process and for the manufactured part aids in overcoming the trust gap that AM technologies carry today, but it also provides a convergence ramp to other advanced technologies.  Moving toward virtual twins of products and systems, enabled by model-based platforms, is a key trend today in manufacturing – particularly in defense, where the U.S. Air Force has contracted the National Institute for Aviation Research to create virtual twins of legacy platforms in order to enable sustainment.  The U.S. Army has also incorporated the virtual twin concept in the digital engineering strategy for the Future Vertical Lift programs (such as the recent V-280 VALOR win for Bell Helicopter).

Additionally, Manufacturing Execution Systems and Manufacturing Operation Management systems need to be able to leverage virtual twin information in order to operate seamlessly and effectively utilize automation.  This requires integration with AM systems and also draws further benefit from virtual twins.  Process virtual twins for AM, operating on a single-source-of-truth platform can carry forward the benefits of virtualization from the cubicle to the manufacturing floor, or many manufacturing floors distributed around the world.

AM is a technology that sits on the line between the virtual and the physical.  As the technology gains trust through data and validated simulation, and as industry continues to leverage virtual twins to increase the efficiency of the entire product life cycle, the opportunity is clear.  Software will enable AM to play a key role in the factory of the future.

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