3D software solutions: the first step in implementing 3D printing for manufacturing
Recently, many new 3D software startup companies entered the market offering various solutions mainly for industrial users. It goes from decision-support solutions for better utilization of 3D printing, generative design/topology optimization, to workflow management and parts IP protection. Each of them seems to be focused on specific challenges heavy users face, challenges that will only increase in the foreseeable future as 3D printing moves from prototyping to manufacturing.
Why is there a need for such 3D software solutions and what are the gaps they are trying to fill? And where does it position the large software conglomerates that have been the main players in the market for many years? Let’s understand the bigger picture first.
In the past several years, we have witnessed the rise of new metal and plastic 3D printing technologies that aim to take 3D printing to manufacture by offering a variety of engineering-grade materials, higher productivity with faster printing speeds. Also, the general use of 3D printing in large organizations is constantly growing as awareness increases, while new applications are being discovered in different industries. The result is an increased number of printed parts, which in turn creates new challenges in the end-to-end workflow from design to end-use parts.
This created a fruitful ground for entrepreneurs and startups to enter the market with new initiatives that could solve specific bottlenecks in the entire process. Many of these startups—including Link3D, CASTOR, ParaMatters, LEO Lane and others—were inspired after experiencing these challenges in companies they used to work for. Their goal: to provide professional tools that can help streamline and optimize the software workflow process.
Bottlenecks to solve
Here are four examples of challenges that 3D software programs aim to solve:
The first challenge for businesses dealing with a large number of parts is managing internal and external communication. Working with your current CAD, PLM or ERP solutions is great but how can you better optimize and speed up order turnaround times, maximize machine utilization rates and provide a superior experience for all engineers to gain access to your additive supply chain? For this, you need to have a modular platform that can be tailored to each organization separately so it can optimize specific workflows.
3D printing Y/N?:
Another challenge is in deciding which parts are suitable to be 3D printed and in which technology to use. A dedicated software solution with AI capabilities can offer organizations critical knowledge that can help engineers direct parts to 3D printing and enjoy the advantages replacing more traditional manufacturing processes, such as cost reduction, geometry limitations and time to market.
Design for Additive Manufacturing (Generative Design/Topology Optimization):
When dealing with printing a large number of parts using advanced technologies and expensive materials, generative design becomes important. Optimizing parts before printing can help to significantly enhance parts’ performance and to reduce weight, costs and printing time. For this, there is a need for an intelligent software platform that has unique capabilities and enables optimization of parts considering many factors such as: variety of loading conditions, the printing technology, type of material, geometry, etc. The new generation of tools are designed to automate the design process by removing tedious human labor and to be easy-to-use compared to the legacy solutions on the market. They are automated and reduce manual intervention dramatically.
Security Share & IP:
Global companies tend to share 3D files across their different facilities around the world. Sharing files and other important data has the risk of exposing it to others, especially competitors. With the right software solutions, specialty materials, advanced printer settings, or any other recipe can be encapsulated and shared with minimum risks, if any. This enables best of breed production through secure sharing and innovative business models.
The Big Players
The advantages of small startup companies are clear: first of all, their solutions are truly innovative and not dependent on legacy technologies. They bring on valuable experience and knowledge, work in small teams, move fast and are a better fit to develop and adjust their product according to their customers’ needs. The drawback? They are relatively unknown (as of yet) and their technology is not as proven as the solutions of big players such as Autodesk and Dassault Systèmes. Here comes the obvious question: why don’t the big players don’t offer the same solutions as the startup companies?
There are several reasons for this. First, by nature, large corporations are much slower in their decision-making process, and therefore moving on to new projects takes time. Second, their solutions are based on legacy products that were not originally developed with a focus on 3D printing. Moving to uncharted areas is more difficult for them compared to startup companies that live and breathe innovation. Third, in many cases, large companies prefer to adopt a ‘wait and see’ approach and follow up the evolution of new companies and technologies. After all, they have the luxury the small ones don’t have—to buy a company that seems to shine above all and has the potential to be the next big thing.