We have recently seen the release of several new additive manufacturing technologies from Stratasys that are going to have a major impact on both the R&D and manufacturing world. There are 3D printers for every step of the production cycle – from design to prototype, tooling and molding, assembly jigs and test fixtures, to even end-use production. Over the past few years, 3D printing has quickly evolved from being strictly a tool for rapid prototyping into a legitimate option for mass production. No single technology is the best for all steps of the manufacturing process but every industrial-grade additive technology excels at something. While the technologies have been advancing leaps and bounds, it’s taken much longer for the software that controls these machines to keep up.
In order for additive technologies to truly transform from prototyping into full-scale production, you need the right tools in place to manage and operate them. It is no longer enough to dedicate control of an additive facility to a “gatekeeper” staff member or even a small team to run your equipment and track every aspect of your production. These technologies are poised to make the leap from just being called “the manufacturing method of the future" into the method of "today." In order to do so, we are desperately in need of a system to help simplify workflow and maximize output while increasing visibility at higher levels and streamlining the tracking of information through these processes.
Stratasys has been investing in the GrabCAD platform since the acquisition of GrabCAD in 2014. The advanced cross-technology GrabCAD Print software now establishes itself as one of the most advanced and easy to use printer prep and manager software in existence, and with that comes the introduction of the GrabCAD Additive Manufacturing Platform. The GrabCAD AM platform is more than software; it’s an ecosystem that has been created to both enable users to embrace manufacturing using additive technologies at scale, while also ensuring growth and advancement in the ecosystem through key partnerships with third-party application developers.
Industry 4.0 & AM Role
The last two years have put a spotlight on the benefits of additive manufacturing and bringing production capabilities in-house to avoid supply chain disruptions. The ability to 3D print parts on-demand and from any location has proven to be a valuable tool in reducing long lead times and inventory carrying costs. 3D printing has become a widely used technology on the factory floor, and businesses are now investing in additive technologies the same way they had CNC Machining and injection molding over the past 60 years.
The term “Additive Manufacturing Technologies” covers a broad range of reliable production 3D printers, performance materials, and the software that keeps them running. For decades, AM Technologies have been used primarily for prototyping, but over the last 10 years, these technologies have evolved to the point where you can now feasibly have a fleet of machines such as Stratasys FDM system or a smaller number of high throughput systems such as the Stratasys H350 and Stratasys Origin One. These machines produce high enough quantities of unique, or identical parts, to rival traditional manufacturing methods.
With advancements to these technologies and new technologies being developed every day, similar innovations need to take place to build reliable backbone systems that can help drive this rapid increase in productivity. This is where the new focus from Stratasys on Software comes in. The driving factors behind Industry 4.0 have put pressure on companies to differentiate and be more productive in both labor and operational efficiency. To help companies embrace additive manufacturing comes the GrabCAD Additive Manufacturing platform.
A History Lesson in the Industry
Before we can talk about how Stratasys is rethinking how the additive manufacturing facility works, we first need to understand traditional manufacturing. Starting with the first industrial revolution, which dates back to the late 1700s, the world witnessed a transition from hand production to machine production through the implementation of steam/water power, thus increasing productivity dramatically. The second industrial revolution, over one hundred years later, was driven by sudden changes in infrastructure; the growth of railroads, the telegraph, and the implementation of electricity resulted in another rapid increase in output and economic growth. The enabled the factory’s reach to rapidly expand outside of the local market into the regional and national realm.
The third industrial revolution occurred in the late 20th century and was characterized by the impact that computers and other advancements in electronics had in boosting the speed and quality of manufacturing production, as well as the globalization of product sales. Industry 4.0, the new era of industry, is a revolution that is being defined by the growth of automation and the increasing use of cloud-based systems for data transfer, storage, computing, etc.
The pillars of the Industry 4.0 era are Interconnection, Transparency, Digital Assistance and Automation. To that point, the additive facility of the past struggles in all of these areas as there are typically bottlenecks in communication between engineers and shop managers, manual offline tracking of projects and materials in stock, and quite a bit of hands-on manual work and decision making.
Why is AM Different Than Traditional Manufacturing?
When we use the term “Traditional Manufacturing,” we’re referring to subtractive and other long-established manufacturing methods, such as molding and casting. These methods typically involve a lengthy initial setup window, often requiring weeks to months developing basic tooling, and once production begins it usually involves sticking to a strict production schedule and managing inventory using ERP software. These techniques for manufacturing are usually very rigid and don’t easily allow for the pivoting to a different product line since the machines and tooling are dialed-in to produce that specific component. If the market is no longer in need of that component, you are stuck with a massive inventory that may be impossible to sell.
Additive Manufacturing (technologies that take raw material resources) builds parts from the ground up using standardized machine equipment that can be programmed very quickly and with minimal waste. This process is perfect for on-demand scheduling and results in shorter lead times because one machine is capable of producing infinite parts, (some of which are impossible to produce via traditional methods) and you can set your job up and start the machine in under five minutes.
While it is tough for additive manufacturing to battle traditional manufacturing when it comes to extremely high quantities of parts, the second there is a model revision or a pivot to a new product line, additive technologies can change over immediately and minimize on-hand inventory prior to the change since you are printing on-demand. The term “elastic factory” is absolutely accurate for a facility focused on production through additive manufacturing, as you can bounce from one unique project to a completely different project spontaneously, or even potentially work on both at the same time!
The GrabCAD Additive Manufacturing Platform
In order to ensure that the factory of today is capable of taking full advantage of its additive equipment, Stratasys has developed a solution to help enable businesses to scale up their production capabilities. The GrabCAD Additive Manufacturing platform is an Industry 4.0 focused ecosystem that is built on real-world experience in the AM environment. This is ready to help with the infrastructure backbone as well as new tools to ensure that this software continues to improve over time.
The platform provides a digital thread in the unique additive manufacturing workflows. It addresses challenges that may come up at every point from design through to production.
The GrabCAD Additive Manufacturing platform targets the pillars of Industry 4.0 by:
- Interconnection: Creating a linked working environment between people, machines, and software to achieve a quick and easy flow of information and minimize downtime.
- Transparency: Allowing your Stratasys equipment and GrabCAD Software to talk with the Enterprise systems within your business and make sure that nothing falls through the cracks in your workflow.
- Digital Assistance: Providing easy tools to help make running your AM Factory easier.
- Automation: Taking particularly laborious tasks and turning them into automated processes that save you time and energy.
The platform enables businesses to scale up their additive manufacturing abilities while maintaining control over the workflow and improving efficiencies. It is a critical tool that will allow customers to manage bigger and more complex Additive Facilities and produce consistent high-quality production parts and allow them to continue scaling their capabilities and output.
How Does GrabCAD AM Platform Achieve This?
The GrabCAD AM platform is capable of doing all of these things because it’s a living, growing software. What I mean is that there are core Stratasys software suites such as GrabCAD Print and GrabCAD Shop, but the true key element is that it is an open software platform. This means that while the GrabCAD team is great at developing tools to speak directly to printers, software development kits (SDK’s) are available to be referenced and quality assured developers that see value in integrating their tools into the GrabCAD/Stratasys ecosystem.
With over ten software partners signed-on to date such as Siemens, AMFG, Identify 3D, and Teton Simulation, the GrabCAD Additive platform is poised to provide Industry 4.0 integrations with ERP, MED, PLM, Security Domains and more, allowing the 3D print shop of the past to ascend to the true additive manufacturing factory of the future!
Stratasys recently unveiled two industry-changing tools that can take your company’s additive operations to the next level: GrabCAD Software Development Kit and GrabCAD Software Partner Program. Register and receive a link to this on-demand webinar where you will learn about advanced solutions for your smart factory floor.