Forging a New World for Additive Manufacturing

Dyndrite, a software solutions provider, hosted a virtual Dyndrite Developer Council (DDC) 2020 Conference on April 21 and 22. This virtual conference, hosted via Zoom, was where additive manufacturing (AM) professionals logged in to discuss their company innovations and AM trends.

The opening conference presentations were focused on the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and how it is affecting supply chains, AM advancements, outlook and standardization within the industry.

Day 1

Harshil Goel, CEO of Dyndrite, kicked off the conference with his keynote speech titled “The Future of Additive Software.”

“The future of additive is computing at the edge,” he said. “Even now, when we’re talking about, for example, GPUs, we’re not really using them for computational geometry—we’re actually using them for rendering—and that, honestly, is a travesty.”

Goel discussed that data is compounding at a cubic rate and, consequently, printers are essentially becoming supercomputers, enabling control over chemicals being jetted onto the powder, laser speed and feed.

According to Goel, toolpathing standards will play a large role in the future of AM. End-users can get better prints using splines, zones and implementing parameter control. Modern computing, industry standards and scriptable modern software will enable AM technology to leap into the future.

“The future of additive has to have some element of automation and production,” Goel said. He partially attributed slower production times to the need to constantly check the geometrical properties of the product. GUIs, while effective at prototyping, can become less effective when facilities produce thousands of unique parts. The amount of data in one folder—sometimes up to 4TB—can also hinder automation and production capacities.

A presentation given by Ryan Palmer, SVP and global head of Software and Data at HP, focused on disruptions and opportunities for the AM community during the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. He discussed COVID-19’s impact on U.S. economy, and how companies can navigate what is expected to be a four-year recovery timeline in global manufacturing and supply chain.

If another pandemic appears “we must be prepared,” said Palmer. “The global manufacturing industry lags behind most other industries in adoption of available solutions.”

Palmer pointed that while many industries have not been able to respond to disruptions, AM has a unique opportunity to change its production direction. An example of this is OEMs shifting their production to print medical devices that can be distributed to healthcare employees.

“The steps we’re all taking in this response are saving people’s lives,” he said. “I see COVID-19 as a true watershed moment for this industry.”

Palmer suggested that some things that could come out of the pandemic, including:

  • A new manufacturing value chain
  • A mandatory investment in supply chain
  • Distributed manufacturing and assembly
  • Acknowledgement of a need for standardization

Palmer also discussed that AM education is important to the advancement of the community.

“If you have a story, share it broadly and contribute to this global shift in perception of our industry,” he said.

Day 2

Todd Grimm, founder and president of T.A. Grimm & Associates, opened the second day with a keynote that began by differentiating facts, truth and reality—and how the AM community is creating its own reality during the pandemic.

“Living in isolation or a bubble, you’re very likely to perceive additive manufacturing as coming to a standstill, but that’s absolutely incorrect,” he said. “There is innovation going on.”

There are new hardware, software, tools and the uses of additive manufacturing, Grimm said. Suppliers are discovering how and when to present information in this new “reality.” Companies were planning on releasing new and innovative technology at AMUG and RAPID+TCT, but that technology didn’t just go away. He said that the refocus has actually spurred on new projects.

“I want to challenge you to stick your head out of the bubble—erase the fog—to see things clearly.”

Reiterating the topic of Palmer’s presentation, Grimm discussed how the AM industry is stepping up to the challenges that COVID-19 has forced society to face.

“Our community has stepped up, and that doesn’t surprise me,” Grimm said. “That’s because additive manufacturing is a very vibrant, very interesting and very engaging community.”

COVID-19 put a spotlight on additive’s flexibility to adapt to new designs, the ability to produce parts quickly and its potential to be a stopgap to resolve supply chain issues.

“Those good things are what we need to build on when we go forward during the crisis, and after the crisis,” Grimm said.

He also talked about how the idea of matching part cost is a “fool’s game” and that can be demonstrated through how the industry is operating during the pandemic.

“In all the COVID-19 stories, did you once hear somebody say ‘yeah, but it’s too expensive’? No. The need was there, and the need trumped the conversations of cost,” Grimm said. “I challenge you to look for better economic wins than a few pennies.”

Of course, while the pandemic highlights the AM industry’s strengths, it also shows us some shortcomings.

“Automating the process can help us with the throughput challenge, but can also be used to further liberate that inherent speed and flexibility that we have with additive manufacturing,” Grimm said.

According to him, most of these limitations can be answered with better software solutions that can fill the gap in knowledge for design, provide automation, mitigate touchpoints and support a distributed manufacturing environment. He echoed Goel’s keynote when it comes to the need for better certifications, standards, protocols and best practices.

“Do we really need to additively manufacture the [face shield] headband? Is that an effective way to do things?” He asked. “Why spend hours or days making a headband? People might be doing it just because you can.”

Grimm said there might be a good case for it, but implored the attendees to think about why before action.

“We need to elevate our level of understanding of additive manufacturing—when it makes sense, why it makes sense, how do you use it and how do you leverage the strengths and overcome the limitations?”

Grimm believes there are too few AM suppliers for too small of a pie, and said there will be a “natural selection” taking place during the crisis for all manufacturing companies. While some companies will return to status quo, Grimm warned against this. Instead, he advised that companies use failures highlighted by the crisis to fix the problems to which they run parallel.

Next to take the virtual stage was Olimpio DeMarco, director of Strategic Alliances, and Mike Geyer, head of Marketing and Business Development, for NVIDIA. They discussed GPUs—to what capacity the AM industry uses them and how end-users can use them to their full extent.

“In order to fuel a lot of the transformation we’re all very anxious and eager to see in additive, we believe that multi-threaded processing of a GPU is a key ingredient to that,” said Geyer.

He discussed the challenges NVIDIA recognized for additive, which include time to market, complexity, quality, agility and efficiency.

Geyer echoed Grimm by saying AM can take advantage of trends that are emerging from the pandemic, but much of the industry is too stuck in its ways to transform, especially when it comes to supply chain.

“We’re going to see a lot of change in manufacturing,” said Geyer. “Distributed systems, disruption in supply chain…it’s a huge, huge deal.” The new norm, according to him, is working remote and implementation of cloud-based initiatives—and it occurred in the matter of a month.

Geyer also discussed how GPUs are gaining computing power—beyond Moore’s Law and into multi-threaded parallel processes. The GPU can be applied to many applications such as AI, ray tracing and parallel computing.

“Don’t think of the GPU as a graphics unit,” he said. “This is a supercomputer that’s in your mobile workstation.”

He illustrated that GPUs can be used in a number of industries for applications, including:

  • Machine learning
  • Data science
  • Mobility
  • Collaboration
  • High-power computing
  • AR/VR
  • Photoreal visual
  • Visual workspace

The AM industry was adapting and growing long before the pandemic, and it will continue to do so after the waves of COVID-19 subside. While it is easy to think of the challenges that lie ahead for AM, it’s also important to note the advancements that are now taking place and how AM can use those to build itself a solidified future.

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