Software for Additive Design, Manufacturing Evolves Quickly

The laser beam hits the bed of metal powder, releasing high energy in the form of heat and melting the metal, layer by layer. It takes a number of different software tools to fully understand the many parameters that determine the quality of the end component. One is the way that metals move during production (Image source: Siemens AG, Munich/Berlin).

The aerospace industry has taken a leadership position in the adoption of additive manufacturing processes, prompting major changes in both design and manufacturing. That’s creating a huge transition in the broad industrial software field, including product lifecycle management (PLM) and design tools.

The digital tools used to create and produce aerospace components are evolving quickly as additive processes expand from prototypes to production. Aircraft and satellite companies are among the leaders in this emerging field. Software companies are racing to develop tools that address the broad capabilities of additive componentry and its distinct design requirements.

“We look at additive as a holistic process,” said Tony Hemmelgarn, President of Siemens PLM Software. “Simply trying to turn existing parts into parts made with additive processes can work, but it’s often easier to start out from a blank sheet and create components based on additive instead of converting a part designed for conventional manufacturing.”

Siemens has invested more than $10 billion in software companies in the past decade. The company’s increasing emphasis on tools and additive processes should help the aerospace sector, which represented 19% of the total $7.3 billion spent on additive manufacturing products and services in 2017, according to Wohlers Associates.

Additive processes remain the most cost effective manufacturing techniques when volumes are fairly small, making 3D printing suitable for many aerospace components. Wohlers said this market grew at roughly 80% last year, with sales of 1,768 additive systems compared to 983 systems in 2016. As additive manufacturing usage expands, there’s also a need for development software that helps engineers create parts that utilize the capabilities of printed production.

“Design tools and know-how remain one of the biggest opportunities in this industrial sector,” said Terry Wohlers, President of Wohlers.

SAE International recently sat down with Hemmelgarn, who heads up the operation that CIMdata analysts rank as the largest PLM supplier. Hemmelgarn detailed some of the changes that are needed to create the most effective parts using 3D printing.

“CAE [computer-aided engineering] tools that have worked well, things people have used for years, are not at the leading edge when they go to a new production style,” he said. “Organic generative design tools for additive processes will let users provide characteristics – parameters like mounting locations, motion requirements and stresses – and get the topology for a component that can be made with additive processes. Tools can also further refine designs, the software may recommend the type of material to use.”

It takes a number of different software tools to fully understand the many parameters that determine the quality of the end component. One is the way that metals move during production. In this nascent phase of additive equipment design, maintaining quality levels is more difficult than in well-proven manufacturing technologies.

“How you simulate the flow of material is important so you can see how stresses can build up,” Hemmelgarn said. “You can use computational fluid dynamics to simulate the flow and look at machine characteristics while depositing materials. That’s important for repeatability. There are still a lot of variabilities from machine to machine.”

Some printed components will still require some additional finishing work, or they may be mated to other components before installation. These combined components are another factor that must be addressed as manufacturers integrate additive processing into mainstream production cycles.

“Anybody can model a part and print it, the question is how to get industrialized processes that are repeatable and ready for mass production,” Hemmelgarn said. “The tools need to deal with hybrid engineering for parts that are made with metal deposition and require some machining and finishing.”

The role of additive components is expanding rapidly as regulators and product developers alike become more comfortable with the technology. Hemmelgarn predicted that passengers will soon see more elements made with the new technology.

“The next step in aircraft is mass printing of parts that go in cabins,” he said. “The size of 3D parts is increasing.”