Software is essential to scale Additive Manufacturing (AM) from prototype to production. This includes software to manage 3D printers, consumables, and quality assurance in addition to novel workflows at different levels of scale.
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Software is essential to scale Additive Manufacturing (AM) from prototype to production. This includes software to manage 3D printers, consumables, and quality assurance in addition to novel workflows at different levels of scale. To reach these ends, Stratasys has introduced the GrabCAD AM platform—an open and enterprise-ready software platform that enables manufacturers to manage production-AM operations and to build new applications via a Software Development Kit (SDK). The platform aims to support 3D printing at production volume, and this requires new software-driven operational capabilities, such as the ability to manage fleets of 3D printers in different locations, monitor output quality, automate materials management, and integrate AM within the broader production enterprise. This emphasis on software supports the idea that an open and enterprise-ready software platform is needed to enable manufacturers to manage production-scale AM operations.
Comprehensive, Scalable, and Open
The GrabCAD AM platform consists of more than 38,000 application users, 20,000 3D printers, and 3,000 workflow users by virtue of Stratasys’s Legacy GrabCAD Print consumer base. It works by integrating GrabCAD applications and third-party GrabCAD Software Partners via the GrabCAD SDK for two-way connectivity among 3D printers, AM and enterprise applications, and broader Industry 4.0 infrastructure. GrabCAD applications in the platform include:
- GrabCAD Print: This simplifies the workflow between design for AM and 3D print preparation. GrabCAD Print is Computer-Aided Design– (CAD-) agnostic and is available on desktop or mobile.
- GrabCAD Shop: This is a cloud-based software-as-a-service work-order management application that simplifies the 3D printing workflow. Orders are managed in one location and are assigned to all networked printers, including Stratasys and non-Stratasys systems.
- GrabCAD Print Manager: This is a new application that enables manufacturers to manage fleets of industrial 3D printers. GrabCAD Print Manager manages licenses to software and open material partners and provides the customer with the ability to view and manipulate production print schedules and in-depth reports. Additional administrative and access controls are on the way, with more details expected to be announced in early 2022.
- GrabCAD SDK: Industry 4.0–ready SDKs provide application programming interfaces, documentation, and code samples and support integration with enterprise information technology as well as third-party applications for account management, asset management, planning and order management, security, quality management, and analytics.
Since the start of 2021, Stratasys has added more than 10 technology partners, including Identify3D, Link3D, IndusIntel, Vistory, Teton Simulation, and AMFG.
It used to be that if one had to solve a 3D printing need, it needed to be solved by a printer Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM). Offering a software platform that is open to third-party development and has a dozen partners at launch is a complete 180° departure for the better. It means that production environment needs can be solved through an open network of partners, including those that focus on different aspects of workflow, simulation, distributed and on-demand manufacturing, and everything in between.
Stratasys has been quietly investing in software for the past five years and was the first printer OEM with a CAD-native work environment (which also came about five years ago). It breaks AM software into five steps: (1) discover, (2) design and validate, (3) plan, (4) operate, and (5) manufacture. Of these, the company is most interested in steps (3) through (5). These will be the most important areas for investment as attention turns to the volume production of end-use parts.
The key to scaling operations is automation, and underlying that automation is connectivity. A main aspect that is changing is that current and future printers are now connected to improve Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE) monitoring, material utilization, and elastic capacity. Connectivity is also being used to facilitate proper access control (ensuring that the right technician has access to the right machine), repeatability, and dynamic scheduling. One company previously spent US$150,000 to measure and report OEE throughout the year before remote diagnostics became available. One of the downstream benefits is more coordinated machine utilization and planning, such as having a printer finish a cycle as a new shift starts.