The Missing Link in Additive Manufacturing: Merging DfAM and Data

Cutting-edge manufacturing hasn’t even scratched the surface of what’s possible yet. From generative design and lightweighting to software simulation and distributed manufacturing, the transition to digital manufacturing promises to unlock enormous potential.

Yet large organizations – including military, aerospace, and automotive – struggle to realize the full benefits of these benefits due in large part to the complexity of integrating these technologies into a solution. ‘company wide.

An ideal platform would combine the capabilities of Automated Design for Additive Manufacturing (DfAM), Additive Manufacturing Readiness with Machine Learning, Data Analytics, and Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES) in one single interface.

This would reduce design cycle times from weeks to hours, project costs would drop dramatically, while improving the quality of every part.

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Additionally, supply chain complexities would be virtually eliminated as components could be designed in one part of the world and printed anywhere else on the planet, or even in space, with a simple press of a button. button.

The US Navy has tried to tackle this problem. Recently, as part of a Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR) project, he requested bids for the development of an end-to-end additive manufacturing (AM) system that could be used across the Department of Defense (DoD).

“The Navy was looking for a streamlined process that would also have auditability and compliance certification,” says Dr. Michael Bogomolny, co-founder and chief technology officer at ParaMatters Inc., a leading generative design and DfAM software provider. California-based industry. . “I think CAD/CAM services were intuitive enough to know that this solution just can’t be done by one player.”

CAD/CAM Services – a Texas-based prime contractor for the US federal government – ​​was asked to integrate commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) technologies into a single interface. This would allow the DoD, as well as other major manufacturers, to manage and evolve their AM processes.

“As a starting point, the Navy wanted to solve the increasingly problematic supply and logistics chains for, say, an aircraft carrier in the middle of the Indian Ocean that needed a specific part immediately” , says Scott Shuppert, CEO of CAD. / FAO services. “They want to be able to just press a button and have that part start printing directly to the ship’s 3D printer or the nearest one available.”

To do this, Shuppert and his team had to provide a viable solution for every stage of a part’s life, from development and certification to service and replacement. This required matching each solution with the best possible technology provider along the way.

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Start on the front-end

“Ultimately, the Navy and DoD want to have a complete repository of every piece in their arsenal cataloged, certified, and ready to be digitally manufactured by any 3D printer anywhere in the world,” Shuppert says.

The transition to this advanced manufacturing process requires each component to undertake a thorough design evaluation. For example, as a starting point, is the part even capable of being digitally manufactured?

“Think of the rotor blade of a helicopter. It’s just too big to be 3D printed, at least right now. So that part is discarded,” Shupert adds. be fabricated using an exotic metal or complex geometry, which is currently not possible for AM. This would also be dropped.

If the part is deemed acceptable, is it best suited for additive or subtractive manufacturing? Could it be improved through generative design or materials science? Does it need numerical simulation and/or Finite Element Analysis (FEA) – which can mathematically predict how a component will withstand real forces such as vibration, heat, fluid flow and other physical effects?

“For the DfAM and generative design aspect of the system, we wanted to remove the human element from the design process as much as possible. ParaMatters’ platform does that and the things they do with additive simulation and FEA will far beyond what anyone else is capable of,” says Shuppert. “That made it our first choice for the Navy project because it reduces the complexity of having to integrate more than one system on the front end.”

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With ParaMatters’ platform, the Navy can simply input the characteristics it needs for a specific component and the software will optimize it through testing, simulation and inspection.

The software selects the appropriate material, determines the best orientation for printing, where to include support structures, nests the parts on the build plate, and generates all cutting data for each component. It is also technology and material independent, which was a key feature for the Navy.

Through generative design, this approach will improve weight versus performance, structural integrity, and a variety of material properties. It can also reduce the number of parts needed in an assembly by combining them into a single printed part.

“It’s something that human knowledge wouldn’t be able to do in the first stage of the design process,” says Bogomolny. “So you then shorten the design cycle by orders of magnitude.”

These elements are then fed into a machine learning system that uses artificial intelligence (AI) to ensure that future design work gets even smarter.

“The AI ​​engine in the design phase has learning and heuristic capabilities,” says Dr Bogomolny. “This creates repeatability, precision, standards and the ability to streamline operation through memorized systematic processes that can be applied repeatedly, allowing automation to start happening in the development of the exit.”

Beyond Manufacturing Execution

Once a component has gone through the DfAM and simulation processes, it can then automatically transition to a manufacturing execution system provided by AMFG. Based in Austin, Texas, AMFG designs MES and workflow software that makes it easier for companies to transition to digital manufacturing.

The AMFG software manages the production of the additive or subtractive manufacturing system. This includes automatic planning, automatic part routing and management of all 3D printers – both internally for the Navy or the manufacturer, as well as any external solutions that may be required.

“The system will guide certain decisions like logistics where this part needs to be produced based on certain requirements, based on resources and any complexity in the workflow to execute this project efficiently,” says Luke Bierman, State Sales Manager United for AMFG.

However, this solution will go far beyond the execution and management of these manufacturing systems. It is also capable of capturing data-driven insights from the beginning of the concept to the end of the process where that component has now been validated or certified.

“That’s where it really gets cutting edge, because you can take that data from the whole process and continually improve that part,” says Shuppert. “Not only will you make them faster and more efficient, but each component can now be easily revised as technology advances to create an even more superior version.”

The system can also capture information about what actually happens to the component throughout its lifecycle, known as product lifecycle management (PLM). This data would be used to create a digital twin that would provide additional information about the part’s design and maintenance requirements.

“Let’s say you have a component that needs to be replaced every four years,” says Bierman. “The software can then schedule the printing and delivery of a replacement component just before maintenance is scheduled. So you can see where it starts to create a smart industry that is both proactive and intuitive.

This type of data could also significantly reduce the heavy burden currently placed on the DoD and the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) by minimizing, if not eliminating, supply chain issues and the need for massive inventory areas.

“If you’re able to run components anywhere in the world in less than 24 hours, maybe you’re not producing and stocking all those components to satisfy some sort of critical inventory,” says Bierman. . “You can now simply create them on demand using virtual inventory.”

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Control and certification

Quality, safety and traceability were also key factors for this new integrated system. For the DoD, parts must be certified before they can be deployed for service.

“Each part must meet certain requirements, whether it’s AS9100 for aerospace, IATF 16949 for automotive, or a certified part for marine,” says Bierman. “Thanks to this platform, we can verify that the component is 100% capable of being used for its application.”

This process begins as soon as the part is manufactured and then inspected with an industrial scanner or laser scanner. The software takes the original CAD file and can find geometric deviations and automatically advance or eliminate the component.

These capabilities can be further extended if required to incorporate nonlinear acoustics or wave stimulation – such as MASER – as an inspection method.

All inspection data is processed again in the AI ​​where it can learn how to reduce the number of disqualified parts in the future.

“Once that’s certified, we can take all of that metadata and upload it to a repository of certified components that in the future can be run consistently around the world on any site that meets those requirements to run it with the exact same process,” says Shuppert.

This data analytics benchmark could then be applied to future projects not just for the Navy, but for the entire military supply chain.

The end goal of this strategy was to optimize cybersecurity protections throughout the process. This requires the digital manufacturing interface to meet any level of Cybersecurity Maturity Model (CMMC) certification required by the Navy, which can be up to Level V.

The DoD is also looking to increase the security of its digital data and network connections. As part of this, digital twin technology will be used to validate and prevent tampering with the DoD’s digital supply chain.

Greg Rankin is a Houston-based freelance journalist with over 20 years of experience in technology, CAD, and industrial design engineering.

Harry D. Gonzalez