Materialise collaborates with PTC to make manufacturers Industry 4.0 ready

Software company PTC has teamed up with Belgium-based 3D printer market leader Materialise to expand the capabilities of its Creo CAD software.

Taking the form of a new software package, the collaboration will allow Creo users to integrate 3D printing into their manufacturing processes, with a special emphasis on metal additive manufacturing.

Part analysis in Creo. Image via PTC.Part-analysis in ThingWorx. Image via PTC.

Design with PTC, build with Materialise

The new PTC software package is intended for manufacturing end-use products and will be compatible with machines linked up to the Materialise Build Processor.

The Build Processor is a slicing feature of Materialise’s Magic 3D Print Suite, an all-encompassing 3D software bundle.

The enhanced connection between PTC CAD software and the Materialise Build Processor simplifies the integration of 3D printing for discrete manufacturers, making distinct items such as plane, cars and mobile phone.

The software package also includes Materialise’s support generation technology, which gives designers more control over the design and creation of metal support structures.

“This collaboration with PTC will expand access to 3D Printing and help engineers and designers think in terms of additive, rather than traditional manufacturing for rapid product design and development,” said Stefaan Motte, VP at Materialise Software.

“Together with Materialise, we will bridge the gap between CAD design software and the 3D printing machines,” added Brian Thompson, senior VP at PTC. 

A Chain Dress prepared for slicing in the materialise build processor. Image via Materialise.A chain-dress prepared for slicing in the Materialise build processor. Image via Materialise.

Integrating CAD, 3D printing and IoT with PTC

Materialise integration is the latest in a number of software integration agreements made by PTC to facilitate interaction between software and hardware.

In May 2017, 3D printer manufacturer 3D Systems announced that it was embedding intelligent features powered by PTC’s ThingWorx industrial internet of things (IIoT) platform into its machines, allowing users to monitor prints in real time.

Later that year, PTC integrated ANSYS simulation into its ThingWorx platform, allowing customers to both analyze the part manufacturing process and predict the component’s performance based on the design and a set of parameters.

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Featured image shows functional end-use part design in Creo. Photo via PTC.

Why benefits of 3D printing are attracting more manufacturers

Rain Wang couldn’t have started the sunglasses manufacturing company Skelmet Inc. without the customization capabilities of 3D printing. Indeed, the technology is what enabled a vision to become a physical reality, albeit one that still needs financial backing from crowdsourced investors.

Skelmet, co-founded by Wang and James Cao in Cambridge, Mass., uses algorithmic scanning to capture the unique shapes of an individual’s head to create customized sunglasses. But the process would have ended there if not for a 3D printer’s ability to shape nylon plastic into eyewear that, Wang said, is perfectly tailored for each customer’s distinctive facial contours.

3D printing technology is absolutely amazing for customized products,” she said. “It creates small structures, [which] traditional molding can’t do.”

Benefits of 3D printing coming to production processes

Skelmet is one of many companies either complementing or moving past long-standing manufacturing methods, such as molding, to embrace the flexibility and responsiveness of 3D printing.

Also known as additive manufacturing, 3D printing’s agile ability to turn digital models into solid objects continues to attract attention, and now has many manufacturing companies adding the technology to their production processes, even if they outsource the printing capability itself.

Just over 70% of manufacturers have found a way to use 3D printing, according to a 2016 survey by PwC and the Manufacturing Institute. Prototyping is currently the most popular use, with just over a third of manufacturers using additive manufacturing for prototyping only. But that use is expanding. Although many once saw 3D printing as best confined to low-volume specialty use, 52% of manufacturers now expect to use the technology in high-volume production processes within the next five years.

Fortune 500 companies, such as General Electric, Boeing and Ford, have made headlines for incorporating 3D printing into their in-house parts manufacturing processes. But beyond the headlines, many other companies recognize the potential of 3D printing and are closely researching how and when they should invest in the technology, according to Jack Beuth, a mechanical engineering professor at Carnegie Mellon’s College of Engineering.

Additive manufacturing for innovation, efficiency

Manufacturers of metal components have a particularly strong interest in 3D printing, and are trying to figure out the specific benefits of 3D printing in terms of their production processes, Beuth said of the companies that consult with Carnegie Mellon’s Next Manufacturing Center, of which he is the director. These companies are reviewing capital and labor costs before purchasing the printers, while many others, for now, are outsourcing 3D printing. A few are buying the machinery, he said.

Far removed from Cambridge and the plastics of sunglasses, Vector Space Systems also sees potential in 3D printing and, last year, used it to create a fuel injector that’s been successfully tested on one of the company’s rocket engines. Vector hopes that 3D printing can someday make a space-ready injector that weighs less than those made with a traditional lathe. In the aerospace industry, weight reduction in even fractions can save big money in the long run of rocket production.

“With 3D printing, we can create an internal lattice structure that’s more hollow and makes the injector lighter,” Vector CTO John Garvey said.

By creating a honeycomb injector structure that’s almost as strong as a conventionally produced one, unnecessary solid material can be removed. There are still many more tests to conduct — including those that must assure the residual powders of printing don’t obstruct any injector orifices — but Garvey believes, if progress continues, in a few years, Vector will strongly consider purchasing its own industrial 3D printer to at least complement lathe manufacturing.

“Cost is definitely an element, but for us, we’re not trying to save on costs,” Garvey said. “We’re looking for innovation and turning around rocket fuel performance. We’ll even pay more for that.”

Cost complicates the benefits of 3D printing

Despite the widespread interest noted in the PwC and Manufacturing Institute survey, manufacturers noted strong barriers to adoption, and cost was an important one. But, like additive manufacturing itself, the issue has many layers.

Large companies that can afford 3D printing should purchase a machine not just for basic production, but also for developing prototypes for testing or tooling, Carnegie Mellon’s Beuth said. Companies that use metal 3D printers can also work outside of variable sets, and can use different powers in the machine — both value-added features of such an investment.

If you can make any kind of positive cost-effect argument for buying a machine now, you should do it, because 3D printing is progressing. Jack BeuthCarnegie Mellon College of Engineering

“If you can make any kind of positive cost-effect argument for buying a machine now, you should do it, because 3D printing is progressing,” Beuth said. Particularly, “3D printing for metals is in the same place now that personal computers were in the mid-1980s. As that [progression] showed, things change fast.”

Still, cost is a challenge for small companies and entrepreneurs, and they will have to outsource, sending computer-aided design files to 3D printing farms, Beuth said.

That’s what Spencer Wright, a product designer who owns a single-person shop in Brooklyn, N.Y., does. He designs high-end bicycle components and sends the configurations to a metal 3D printing farm to manufacture. He also has experience with polymer 3D printing, an area that Beuth sees as the next to advance.

“Some companies are building entire business models around 3D printing,” Wright said. “Every manufacturing technology has its limitations, and that’s true of 3D printing. But it has unique and interesting design challenges, and that’s fascinating. There’s a chance to explore this new kind of design and create a line of parts.”

Grow Secure Allows Confidence & Security for Both Industrial 3D Designers & Manufacturers

g2While the joys and euphoria of discovering 3D printing are very real, so are intellectual property concerns. The making community is famous for its open-source design, which is the antithesis of the me, me, me generation, embracing a concept of sharing, improving, and furthering the world of digital design, 3D printing.

When you are building a brand or a business, however, often the reality is that you simply can’t have everyone running off with your idea willy-nilly–or stealing it outright. All that brainpower–steam coming from between the ears–and effort put into many hours of labor and iterations of a product is worth something. So while there are some designs and ideas we want to put out there to Untitledthe world freely, there are others we must protect, because quite simply, they are valuable–and yes, ours.

The growing concern regarding intellectual property rights and 3D design is becoming more widespread, and several groups are taking measures to deal with the issue, as we’ve reported on before, from debates and pending lawsuits to those working to speak out on the issues.

New protection–and subsequent piece of mind–is available as of today though, via Grow Secure, which is a standalone Windows solution that revolves around protection of remote 3D printed designs. The intellectual property protection product encrypts files so that the original owners of designs stay just that way – owners of files that are not stolen or corrupted.

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Available for free download now, all manufacturing hubs are able to receive a trial run at no cost for three months which can be renewed at a minimal fee.

“This is a critical area for the industrial 3D printing market where IP owners have been concerned for some time about how their designs can be securely sent for manufacture,” Ray Coyle, CEO of Grow told 3DPrint.com. Also one of the co-founders of Grow, Coyle is an attorney and an intellectual property specialist.

Based in West London, as part of the Grow software company, the Grow Secure plaform allows for distribution of files that are guarded by 3074 bit RSA encryption and a key system. Because each hub does have its own ‘key,’ if you are an IP owner you can encrypt and transfer files knowing that no one can ever get to them–even if there is an unfortunate breach in security.

“We believe that IP security and output consistency across multiple sites are the key barriers to adoption of distributed manufacturing using AM technology,” said Coyle. “Grow Secure is our first product in a series that will address these issues and help to enable this technology to reach its full potential”.

UntitledThis is no spur-of-the-moment gimmicky protection plan, as the company, co-founded by Siavash Mahdavi (founder of Within Labs and co-founder of Digital Forming) and backed by EOS GmbH, has also been duly tested by Autodesk. The industry giant has been using Grow Secure over the last year with a successful trial run, as they used it to encrypt and transfer medical design files to hubs all over the world.

Also available for EOS hardware is a feature that allows the client design file to remain encrypted through the entire process. This means that not even the manufacturing bureau has access to the design. Grow Secure is currently developing further means to make this available more widely.

This company functions not just as an entity offering this unique encryption service, but also as a platform for 3D printing manufacturers and industrial designers to grow further together, knowing that they are secure. Users can add new data to files before encryption that includes instructions to manufacturers, instilling both confidence and organization on both sides due to thorough, comprehensive, and secure practices. This method not only ensures safety and protection, but also consistency.

Have you been concerned about intellectual property rights with any of your 3D designs? How important do you think it is to seek protection? Discuss in the Grow Secure forum thread over at 3DPB.com.

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