Two years ago, Duann Scott was described by The New York Times as “a Pied Piper for on-demand 3-D printing.” Scott still worked back then at Shapeways, where his actual title was only-slightly-less-hipsterish: designer evangelist. Today, Scott works in strategy and business development for the manufacturing group at Autodesk.
At the biennial International Manufacturing Technology Show last month, the 3-D printing software company unveiled a new portfolio of additive (and subtractive) manufacturing products and services that should expand the scope of industrial 3-D printing. Scott dives in and answers some questions.
For those who missed IMTS, what, exactly, is new about this technology?
Two of the most important things that haven’t been addressed really in the additive manufacturing space before: simulation of the print process and post-production. With metal 3-D printing, there’s a lot of thermal stress in the parts as you’re printing them, so there’s a lot of trial and error. It can be an expensive problem. ... We can simulate the process now and we can automatically counter it by changing the geometry so it zeroes out the distortion. It will show you what’s wrong, and then fix it so it prints as designed.
And how does this help the additive manufacturing process?
It cuts down on the iteration process required to get a successful build. So someone may have to do five or seven builds to get a successful part, and they lock down that build and print it. If it takes 16 hours to print, another 16 hours to cool down, then more time to measure the part, this one iteration can take you a week — and while you’re doing that, your throughput is stalled. If we can increase simulation time to hours or minutes, the cost of production goes down and you save time.
As a manufacturer, one of the most dangerous things for your factory or service bureau is variation of throughput. If you have a known throughput and something in your supply chain has a variation of 20%, then your whole factory has a 20% variation. One thing early in the stream can wreck everything. ... Any time we can knock back the variability and the unknowns, we can increase productivity. We can’t fix everything — something will still go wrong, maybe a design flaw, maybe machine errors or material variations — but if we can identify and break down these variations, we can be more efficient, and with that, we can bring down the cost of manufacturing for the factory owner and for customers.
Seems like this is sort of an adaptation of the streamlined processes we have in so many other areas of everyday life maybe formed for the shop floor.
I think of it like photography. When we had analog photography, most photographs were terrible. You would have a week for feedback. Why is this out of focus? Why is everything so dark? Once we started to shoot with digital, photographs got better and better and better, because everybody could modify their camera settings and fix them, and now the difference between a photo on Getty Images and Flickr is very small. We need that same feedback loop for designers so they can get better designs, then better prints, then better parts manufactured.