The new AM reality is coming

Louise Smyth

Additive Manufacturing (AM) is on the cusp of going mainstream in some of the toughest manufacturing environments out there – and has huge potential to disrupt whole industries. But the shift poses a profound challenge: the rules of prototyping and customisation no longer apply in the world of real parts and serial production. AM is leaving its comfort zone and has to raise its game fast.

This is the backdrop against which Materialise, a leading provider of AM software and sophisticated 3D printing solutions, will be showing its range of new software tools and features at formnext - solutions that are all geared up for a new AM reality.

New benchmarks set by automotive, aerospace and medical

Stefaan Motte, vice president of Materialise’s Software Unit, explains: “It truly is a new reality we’re dealing with. The new benchmarks for our industry have to be automotive’s ultra-efficiency, aerospace’s absolute accountability and medical’s full traceability. That feels like a departure from what we’re used to, but in fact, a lot of the building blocks are already in place. At Materialise, we’ve already built the tools we need to reach these new benchmarks – and have used them in our own production.”

At formnext (15-18 November, Frankfurt Messe), Materialise will unveil new features and solutions that add to its continuously evolving software backbone, the Materialise Magics 3D Print Suite.

Motte continues: “We’re in the lucky position that we’ve been acclimatising to the new reality for quite some time now. We’re already used to the high quality standards, certifications and specifications of an industry like aerospace, or the uncompromising efficiency of automotive. We’ve run into and have overcome a lot of the challenges already and have built the learnings into our software suite.”

New software tools

The focus on efficiency and repeatability translates into software tools and features that speed up preparation time for builds, for example by automating the generation of support structures and helping with orientation recommendations.

A completely new monitoring and inspection software, also to be introduced at formnext, tackles waste, high scrap rates and validation issues, while countless new features in established products save time, join up steps, improve first-time-right rates, and enable better use of specialist skills, particularly for metal builds.

Motte explains: “Metal is the fastest growing area in AM at the moment, so we’re adding a raft of features and functionalities to our software package that will accelerate progress in metal AM at a mass manufacturing scale.”

A grown-up approach to making AM work

To fully control complex production environments that include AM processes, deep integration is needed. Motte comments: “To keep up with the demands of high-end, fast-paced manufacturing environments, AM processes have to be able to fit in with complex, very disciplined ecosystems. That means we have to start looking at the whole thing end-to-end. We have to be able to join up all steps of the AM process seamlessly, control it tightly and integrate it with other production processes. A lot of that can be done through software, but to work in the world of real manufacturing, this software has to be open, agnostic, collaboration-ready and helpful. That’s still not always the case.”

Materialise has always been “open” by default, allowing the company to constantly apply its innovation power to new areas – and innovate through co-creation. This openness and humble curiosity is now needed to make AM work in new sectors.

Motte concludes: “I predict that the last few remaining “walled garden” solutions in AM software will now come under pressure to open up. For us, openness has always been a no-brainer, as it allows us to get our technology out there quickly, partnering with industry leaders to prove it in as many scenarios as possible. In a way, this biggest shift in the industry is the moment we’ve been waiting for - to show how much we can achieve together.”


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