How can software simulation accelerate metal 3D printing application?
Metal additive manufacturing (AM), commonly known as metal 3D printing, has gained increasing attention in recent years, but the adoption of this technology in the end application is moving slowly. One reason is that printing metals typically have more technical challenges than printing non-metal materials like polymer. Another reason is associated with the high-end application of metal AM parts in critical areas such as aerospace and medical device. Those industries have very stringent qualification process which takes a much longer time. In the endeavour of accelerating metal AM application, software simulation plays a key role to push forward this technology, from initial part design to final part fabrication and certification.
“Software simulation is the most promising way to accelerate metal 3D printing application.”
So, in addition to some basic software required to execute a print job, what other software can help to make qualified metal AM parts?
The first type of software is related to design optimization. Limitation in traditional manufacturing processes do no longer apply to this new technology. The traditional component can now be re-designed to achieve better functional performance, yet there is no standard design rule for additive manufacturing. A robust design optimization software can help engineers effectively re-design traditional parts that benefit from AM technology. For example, topology optimization software that can largely reduce component weight but remain part strength. Similarly, software with generative design capability also creates lightweight structure that is beyond traditional design scope. Other software, such as lattice structure generation or part consolidation, also focus on weight reduction and function improvement. With the help of that software, a traditional component can be re-designed with less weight, more complexity, and better performance.
Second type of software is for AM process modelling. Once a design is finalized, it will go to build preparation. Basic build preparation software can suggest build orientation and support structure, yet not guarantee a satisfied metal part due to potential high thermal stress-related printing failures (e.g. distortion, cracking). Thus, extensive trial-and-error iterations are often needed for process optimization.