DEVELOP3D is a print and digital resource which tracks the essential technologies used throughout the entire product development process. DEVELOP3D analyses and disseminates emerging technologies whilst engaging engineers and designers and assisting them in their increasingly complex software and hardware selection process.
Fashion technology company Alvanon has announced a new collaboration with sportswear giant Under Armour (UA) to inspire fashion brands to further embrace 3D deign tools and software.
The two companies partnered on a project to develop new 3D tools, particularly working with 3D avatar size sets, to make better product, with improved sizing and standardisation, that delivers next-level accuracy and fit for the consumer.
Many companies, including UA, have turned to 3D virtualisation to significantly reduce the time and cost of product design and development - aiming to minimise the laborious and slow physical sampling stage.
It might have little over 20 3D printers installed around the world, but materials, engineering and tooling company Sandvik has seen enough in BeamIT’s AM technology to purchase a ‘significant stake’ in the Italian company.
Sandvik’s ambition to become a leading solution provider for the wider component manufacturing industry has led it to further its position in additive manufacturing, which given its metals machining and materials knowledge makes a lot of sense - having earlier this year integrated its Powder division into the Additive Manufacturing division, to offer an end-to-end service.
A key marker for why Sandvik has chosen to take a stake in privately held BeamIT, with an option to increase it over time, might be found in the number of relevant quality certifications, including AS 9100 for aerospace and NADCAP approval, which provides easy inroads into several high value verticals.
A double-pipe clip 3D printed in 3D Systems’ FabPro Flexible BLK material
FabPro Flexible BLK is the latest addition to 3D Systems vast materials portfolio, offering stretch and impact resistance to parts coming off its FabPro 1000 3D printer.
Giving parts the look and feel of moulded polypropylene, its material properties include an elongation at break at a reported 93 per cent, as well as high impact strength – making it ideal for a wide variety of prototypes and functional testing.
According to 3D Systems’ report of its ‘unnotched Izod impact strength testing to ASTM D4812 standards’, the FabPro Flexible BLK material did not break.
The move to fabrication of buildings in factories is happening in the blink of an eye and owes more to the manufacturing world than the BIM-focused approach taken to date by the building design industry, writes Martyn Day
The architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) industry is undergoing a revolution. We live in an era in which we will likely see its complete digital transformation, from concept to fabrication. While many in the AEC industry may think the adoption of building information modelling (BIM) is an end in itself, moving from 2D to 3D was actually just the initial phase in a longer process of digitisation that will take us into computationally assisted design, automated manufacture and assembly.
While this may sound far-fetched to those working in the construction industry today, others from the manufacturing sector have seen it all before. In that sense, AEC’s direction of travel and final destination is a case of history repeating itself.
There are firms now racing to get the benefits of digital prefabrication, the modular mass production of buildings intended for mainstream markets – houses, offices, hotels. This will be delivered through the convergence of many technologies and processes appropriated from the rather more mature market of industrial-scale manufacturing, particularly aerospace and automotive.
To add fuel to the fire, there has been a huge level of interest and investment from venture capital firms hoping to back the ‘Tesla’ of buildings and later reap the returns. This has led to a massive increase in the creation and development of ‘building factories’, with new start-ups and mature players spending billions to be the first to dominate the market.
In preparation for this article, I found all sorts of new, wannabe building design and digital fabricators: FactoryOS, Katerra, D*Haus, Boklok, Go Modular, Connect-home, Popup House, Cube Haus, Fabcab, Kiss House, Plant Prefab, Blokable, Module, Kasita, Fullstack Modular, to name but a few. Then there are the players already deeply invested in housing or functional buildings, like Marriott, and in the case of the UK, Berkeley Group, Legal and General and Ilke Homes. There will be at least six more factories for producing prefab buildings in the UK within the next three years. Additionally, many architecture firms have experimented with producing their own in-house modular teams/brands and tried some form of off-site construction, with varying degrees of success and failure. Many are working with prefab makers in China.
There have always been innovators in the AEC space; few know that Thomas Edison (he of lightbulb and phonograph fame) was absolutely fascinated with concrete. He realised it could be used to make cheap housing and set up a firm around a 1908 patent for cast-in-place concrete houses made from single-poured facades in reusable formwork. Edison didn’t stop there, either; he investigated concrete roofs, partitions, bath tubs, floors, picture frames and even a piano. He lost millions in the process, but it’s not a million miles away from fans wanting to see the 3D printing of buildings onsite.
In the context of this article, however, I believe that 3D printing will be an atypical way of mass constructing complete buildings for quite some time yet. That said, I will admit that there are cases where 3D printing has been used to great effect, such as by Laing O’Rourke on the concrete panels at the new Crossrail stations. Laing used a 6-axis gantry robot with a 3D printing attachment to make 1,400 moulds for the 36,000 concrete panels.
Hospital, designed by Nordic Office of Architecture, includes a high level of repetition
Signature architects, those pushing the boundaries of form and materials, have frequently had to look outside of the AEC industry to fabricate components, with amazing results. I’m thinking of Herzog & de Meuron/Arup Sports’ Bird’s Nest Stadium for the Chinese Olympics, or many designs by Foster + Partners, Zaha Hadid Architects and others, who turned to shipbuilders and their CAD systems and processes to fabricate large-scale components for buildings. Frank Gehry, who famously said he couldn’t find the power switch on a computer, let alone use one, has a team of experts who take his paper models and use Dassault Systèmes’ Catia to define the structure and digitise the metal cutting, so that his practice can make a warped wall for the same price as a straight one. What’s important here is that Gehry chose to be outside of typical providers of architectural design tools, opting for a system more commonly used in aerospace, automotive and shipbuilding, because the key benefit was in the digital fabrication element.
Prior to using this system to precisely model structures, Gehry’s buildings were seen as too risky and costly to make, due to their complexity, which generated wildly inflated quotes from fabricators. When 2D drawings were dropped in favour of explicit Catia models, Gehry’s fabrication quotes all came within 1% of each other.
In the mass market, there has obviously been a longstanding prefab building market and many, many attempts at modular modernist designs, but these have always been niche. Very few of these have benefited from true digital fabrication, as they are more often assembled within a factory by builders and then shipped onsite. This offers the benefit of rapid assembly onsite, but the inefficiencies of manual labour remain.
However, connecting building design to digital fabrication has the potential to change the game, with automated cutting and configuration systems to enable customers’ design choices to be fed directly into the production system. The biggest steps forward in this methodology have been seen in countries where timber frame structures are popular, such as the US, Australia, Scandinavia, Switzerland and mainland Europe. These buildings range from tiny ‘garden offices’ to the famous German Huf-Haus and Katerra’s ‘off-the-shelf’ eight-floor office blocks. The current tallest cross-laminated timber (CLT) building, incidentally, is the 18 storeys high, 85.4 metre Mjøstårnet in Norway, by Voll Arkitekter.
This concept is now taking off, even in countries without a strong history of prefabrication. In the UK, Legal and General and Berkeley Homes are building huge factories, requiring significant investment, for the assembly of mass housing. They are just two of at least six UK housebuilders changing the way they will, in future, deliver residential new builds.
This has gone beyond the early experiment stage and is now a race for housebuilders to improve efficiency and adopt more automation. It will be interesting to see if timber frame takes off in the UK, and if timber frame will be acceptable to a population that has tended to shun wooden houses. Also, will these properties be mock Tudor, or brick-clad – or will people want something more modern? Developers such as Urban Splash, for example, have built a number of developments using modern prefab aesthetics.
Katerra’s Apollo software suite covers the entire building lifecycle from inception and design to operation
The $4 billion ‘start-up’
When examining this movement towards digital fabrication, it’s perhaps best to look at one of the more extreme examples of a firm attempting to significantly change everything about the process, from the role of the developer, through the manufacture of the building, to its sale, rental and lifespan.
Katerra is a Silicon Valley design build firm, owned by Michael Marks, Jim Davidson and Fritz H Wolff. Marks was former CEO and chairman of Flextronics (the electronics design, fabrication, assembly and test company) and a former interim CEO at Tesla.
The company was only started in 2015, but has become a trailblazer following significant investment. It’s now worth an estimated $4 billion. In just four years, it has grown to over 5,000 employees and is working on $3.7 billion worth of projects in the US alone – but rumours suggest it may have ten times that much in its global bookings pipeline.
The mission of the company is to remove inefficiencies in the construction industry by defining its own processes to handle everything from the architectural design of a building to off-site construction and installation. To do this, it’s relying heavily on new technology and automation in its factories, as well as for site development, schematic design, fabrication of parts and onsite construction.
The scale of the company in terms of mass timber is really incredible, having its own cross-laminated timber factory and aiming to be one of the world’s leading suppliers. In fact, owning resources has become a key part of the company’s mix, having expanded from timber frame assembly, to CLT production, to steel frame and now having acquired a concrete firm too, with eyes on markets in the Middle East and elsewhere.
In many respects, Katerra is aiming to be a ‘Boeing of buildings’. It will offer a range of scalable and configurable residential and office designs, which can be bought and ordered off the peg, or as a range of pre-configured modular parts, like floor systems, which have multiple applications. The company is refining its own end-to-end production system, which utilises manufacturing-level CNC precision, together with parts management, using IoT technology to track and deliver all the flat pack assemblies and components necessary onsite, requiring considerably less labour than before and enabling completion rates measured in days and weeks.
We attended the launch event of its new building platforms in Las Vegas in February and saw a number of residential and office designs created using manufacturing and assembly from the outset. The firm has its own integrated team of architects and engineers to define wall and floor systems, casework, bathroom and kitchen kits, as well as multiple configurable elements, such as finishes. Each design complies with 48 State building and energy codes, comes with a complete bill of materials and provides developers with swift feasibility, permitting and cost estimates.
But Katerra isn’t stopping at the building framework; it has completely developed its own energy-efficient windows, reinvented the heating and cooling system for each apartment and developed its own AI-enabled power cabinet for whole buildings. If the engineering team finds an element of a building that can be improved, it seems inclined to do it. Even the packaging for the bathroom, when shipped to site, forms part of the installation.
One of the interesting drawbacks to factory-assembled buildings is quite surprising. Katerra’s dry walls contain everything when shipped – electrical, plumbing, heating, controls – for fast assembly. Each US state has different rules on building inspection, but it’s usual that if a wall shipment crosses state lines, it has to be opened up during construction to be inspected to see it conforms to code. This is like buying a Ford motor car in London and driving to Scotland, only to be stopped to check its wiring conforms to UK specification. It’s clear that building regulations and inspection need to catch up with prefabricated components.
The rapid rise of Katerra from 2015 to today is just astounding – from zero to working on $3.7 billion in projects in around four years. The reality, however, is that it’s still early days for the company; it has only just begun to properly define its processes and it’s clear that a lot of what’s available on the market to help it in its work, such as building components or off-the-shelf software, won’t be up to scratch, so the company will need to develop these in-house.
Katerra and CAD
The AEC market has suffered from tremendous inefficiencies. Building information modelling (BIM) was seen as an advance on old 2D systems, because 3D models could generate all the drawings legally required, with coordinated updates when edited. The additional benefits it offers of renderings, potential analysis and providing a central repository for all relevant data has further excited the industry.
However, and there really are no two ways of saying this, all BIM systems currently on the market were never designed to drive a digital fabrication process, to generate the g-code that runs CNC machines. They have predominantly been written to address current workflows, based around documentation. The phrase ‘digital twin’ is now being used in the context of BIM, but the reality is that BIM models do not contain enough information to be a real ‘twin’; they are just geometrical representations, lacking fabrication-level detail.
To drive fabrication machines, models would have to be created with a much higher level of 1:1 detail and accuracy, a level that would quickly kill their performance and make them unusable. Today’s BIM tools will not provide an end-to-end solution for any digital fabricator. Instead, these companies tend to use manufacturing-based tools like Solidworks or Tekla Structures.
From talking to the Katerra team, the company is re-evaluating its product development technology stack and in fact has hired a host of ex-Autodesk employees to join its software division.
In the same vein of developing or redeveloping building equipment, which it thought it could do better, Katerra has outlined plans to deliver what it calls Apollo, a cloud-based software-as-a-service (SaaS) offering. This will provide an operating platform with its own applications delivering “persistent data, so teams can better execute timely decisions as well as increasingly automate tasks.”
This software provides a source of persistent data with zero loss from programme inception, across design, construction and the duration of the building’s life. From what I can tell, the intention is to first develop an application, similar to Procore construction management software, for Katerra’s own internal use. Once the company has tested this system on its own processes, it will offer it to the wider development and building community.
Soon after, several other components will be added to Apollo. These will include Apollo Insight, for rapid site evaluation, automated site planning, early cost and schedule forecast, and 3D design analysis tools; Apollo Connect, for material selection, design configurations and design review; and Apollo Construct, for construction management, budget and schedule tracking, centralised documentation.
Apollo also features an open API for further third-party integrations. By all accounts, the launch and feature set did not go down too well at Autodesk HQ.
Currently, the backbone of Katerra’s development work has been Autodesk Revit, with models having to be exported and then fed/remodelled through a range of other applications to get the g-code required to drive the cutting machines. As the process has become more automated, the building types larger and the company more reliant on digital fabrication, the gap between traditional BIM capabilities and those required for manufacturing have made for interesting conversations with the design team.
The topic turned to CAD systems such as Dassault Systèmes’ Catia, the benefits of which had not been lost on them. In a conversation with the architectural team, the idea that you could model 1:1 with all fabrication details, not have the system slow down to a crawl and be able to natively produce g-code to drive manufacturing, together with other downstream processes such as analysis, enterprise resource planning (ERP) and product lifecycle management (PLM) was judged to be extremely attractive – even if it meant having less architectural-flavoured tools at the design end, or possibly using one to drive the other.
Revit’s ‘family of parts’ methodology isn’t that far away from the way modular works. It would be possible to have a definition of an architectural model that linked to a pre-defined assembly in Catia. In fact, London-based Facit Homes has already developed a system from which g-code can be derived from the Revit model, for cutting onsite in a shipping container, although not at this scale.
Bruce Bell’s view of factories to make buildings offers a very different perspective. He spoke last year at NXT BLD.
Over the past year, there has been a growing interest and excitement inside Dassault Systèmes about what digital fabrication could mean, in terms of the potential its solutions have in the AEC market. Dassault executives tell us the company is working with six or more large modular fabricators to optimise design to fabrication processes, learning from automotive and aerospace.
The one key takeaway for me is that, in today’s AEC world, all the concern is on digital document or model management; it’s still all about PDFs and collaboration. In a digital fabrication/modular world, it’s all about components, assemblies and process – and this is throughout the fabrication and lifecycle of the building. PLM, championed in the world of manufacturing, most certainly becomes a new key repository for factory-made buildings, and connections to other fabrication systems like ERP for fabrication are essential – and more essential than BIM.
Design for manufacture
Another impactful role, in the drive for automation, resides with the initial designers. If architects have no concept of what is possible in the production process, then they can introduce inefficiencies or devise assemblies that increase the cost or reduce the quality of the finished building. In the engineering world, it is still possible to find design engineers who create product assemblies that the production engineers have to amend, in order to enable the manufacture of components.
There will be very few architects who fully understand the digital fabrication limitations of building fabrication systems. Design for manufacture and assembly (DFMa) is a separate discipline in itself and requires a holistic view of what is possible and what’s available, as well as the cost implications of early design decisions around processes, material use and serviceability.
With growing use of computational tools and algorithms, it is becoming increasingly possible to produce complex geometry, which may benefit from new digital manufacturing processes, such as 3D printing or Knitcrete. The software could also be deployed to check designs for manufacturability, based on rules, or take a form and approximate it with the tools used by a digital manufacturer.
In the manufacturing world, this is already possible; Autodesk has developed a system that can look at a part and optimise the geometry for the intended production process. Sand casting (cheap) would look dramatically different to metal 3D printing (expensive), but both would meet the functional criteria. I envisage a future where you might simply state the material for a building structure and the geometry would change, based on whether it was timber or steel.
The reality is that there won’t be one correct way to implement digital fabrication in the building industry, because everyone currently involved is having to work it out for themselves. We will see single-platform, end-to-end players like Katerra develop and refine everything they need for themselves. Then there will be firms that choose not to be software developers, instead relying on existing systems, a more componentised approach to design and assembly and a network of trusted suppliers for components.
We’ve already seen design teams create modular designs and then go off to find a fabricator to work with, knowing their skill is in ideation, not fabrication. We will see factories of robots producing buildings, factories with humans producing buildings, and mixtures thereof – but the trend has to be towards full automation at some point, as it is in nearly every manufacturing sector.
Not all factories will survive. As with all trends, we are seeing a glut of investment, as people are betting big on backing the winners in a multi-trillion dollar industry. The benefit of today’s federated approach to designing construction is its flexibility and ability to adapt to the ebbs and flows of building cycles, booms and busts.
When you have an asset like a factory, it really needs constant throughput to make economic sense. One only has to visit disused shipyards around Britain to see what happens when orders dry up.
Therefore, factories for buildings need to be as flexible as possible, in order to shift from creating low-cost residential buildings, to offices, to hospitals, to schools, to universities, to McMansions, as demand dictates. Today’s digital tools, programmable robots and flexible design systems, meanwhile, should enable well-planned factories to dynamically change to meet different economic winds.
ETH Zurich’s DFAB house, with steel reinforcement placed by robots
Looking at the current focus within the CAD world, there are two standout companies that see the potential of the digital fabrication market: Autodesk and Dassault Systèmes (DS). Trimble does have strong capabilities in digital fabrication through the highly competent Tekla Structures but, with SketchUp, doesn’t have the same depth of functionality for front-end design.
Other traditional CAD/BIM software developers are not vocal within the space. Bentley Systems MicroStation and Nemetschek Vectorworks both use the Parasolid solid modelling engine, which is inside Siemens PLM NX, a CAD tool used by many automotive and aerospace companies, so the potential is there. Nemetschek is also progressing with McNeel Rhino for computational design. BricsCAD has the ACIS solid modeller and has a manufacturing feature set in the same tool, so also has some potential.
There is also always the chance that Siemens PLM could enter the fray as DS’s main competitor in manufacturing and PLM. It already owns 9% of Bentley Systems and has some co-developed AEC tools, based around factories. PTC, another big player in the manufacturing space, has had aspirations in AEC before, but is showing no signs of rekindling its interest. (The company acquired Reflex from Dr Jonathan Ingram, which it then spun off with the developers who created Revit, which, in turn was bought by Autodesk.)
For now, we see Autodesk and DS jostling for position. Autodesk has Revit for traditional AEC workflows, Dynamo and Maya for computational generation, Inventor and Fusion for manufacturing and has stated its vision to develop for digital fabrication in the building space.
Dassault Systèmes owns Solidworks, which is already popular in architectural component manufacturing, and Catia, which is already used by Zaha Hadid Architects and Gehry, and is certainly developing something with Vinci Construction, which for now remains top secret. It also has a range of limited AEC tools.
The interesting thing here is that the strengths of these two main competitors are diametrically opposed. Autodesk is strong in AEC development to document, weak on large-scale digital fabrication. DS is strong in large-scale fabrication, engineering management, but weak in architectural design tools. Will the market opt for the manufacturing bias or the architectural design biased tools? Neither technology stack is quite perfect. This could be an epic battle between Titans.
Autodesk makes its play
We talked with Robert Bray, senior director of pre-construction at Autodesk, who is responsible for Autodesk BIM360 Design and all offerings around pre-construction, including..
HP’s brand-new 3D Printing and Digital Manufacturing Centre of Excellence in Barcelona aims to help the company meet demand for new technologies in both polymers and metals, as Steve Cox reports
HP’s new facility in Barcelona incorporates eco-friendly construction materials including a photovoltaic canopy, 110kW of power, rainwater reuse for irrigation and sanitary purposes, and HVAC and natural light optimisation
When HP announced its intention to enter the 3D printing arena back in 2014, it took almost two years for a machine to actually hit the market. The end result was a significant dilution of the impact originally promised. Fast forward to today, however, and things are now moving rapidly in terms of how HP is developing its 3D printing and digital manufacturing offering.
The June 2019 opening in Barcelona of a brand-new global Centre of Excellence for this area of its business is ample evidence of the changes underway and the scale of HP’s ambitions.
This new facility is large, covering over 150,000 square feet – the size of three football pitches. HP executives claim it’s “possibly the largest of its kind in the world”, and it will house the company’s R&D efforts and ongoing development around its Multi Jet Fusion (MJF) technology.
HP used the grand opening as an opportunity to showcase exactly what the company is currently doing in this area and where it’s heading next. The 300/500 series covers prototyping of functional parts, with the opportunity to make them in full colour if required. The 4200 series, the mainstay of its offering until now, is suitable for prototyping and short production runs, and the newer 5200 series expands on this, with its focus squarely on using 3D printing for mass production.
Scaling up for volume production
The ability to offer 3D printing for volume production is interesting, with HP executives admitting that scaling up to this level is a complex proposition. It requires a fully developed quality management system (QMS) to provide the necessary assurances that customers look for when using parts produced in this way in the products that they sell.
This was the first time I’d heard HP execs talk about applying standard measures such as Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE) and Process Capability Index (Cpx) to 3D printing. More specifically, these measures can be used to assess product equipment utilisation and the accuracy/repeatability of parts produced, respectively.
According to HP executives, their ability to discuss these indices in relation to 3D printing is changing the conversations they have with customers, as the technology moves beyond the technology centres of manufacturing companies and onto the wider factory floor.
For the recently launched 5200 series printers, for example, HP has achieved an OEE of 80% and Cpk of 1.3. This very credible OEE rating, they claim, demonstrates that many of the failure-rate issues that often plague 3D printing can now be overcome, while the Cpk value indicates that 99.993% of parts remain within specific tolerances, in comparison to the tolerances achieved with injection moulding. It was interesting to hear the company state that getting to that Cpk figure was the result of software advances, and from exploiting machine learning, rather than improvements in hardware.
The facility focuses on development of HP’s 3D printing portfolio, providing a large-scale factory environment where customers and partners can collaborate on digital manufacturing technologies
Partners and customers
HP views partnership as key to the way it continues to develop its MJF technology – a first for the company in this particular area. That’s perhaps because HP executives still view 3D printing technology as being in a ‘start-up’ phase, with outside assistance needed to offer fully integrated systems. Examples of partnerships here include those with Siemens, which is developing software systems to integrate 3D printing with established manufacturing workflows, and BASF, which is developing new materials.
In terms of the applications demonstrated there was relatively little here that we haven’t seen before, with one exception being the first examples of parts made with HP’s first flexible material, a TPU called UltraSint 3D TPU01, developed for HP by BASF.
And, given the move into volume production, the real stand-out use case to be showcased was that involving SmileDirectClub, a company that produces dental aligners. Its goal is to produce 20 million 3D-printed dental impressions over the next twelve months, using an army of 49 HP MJF printers. That means producing over 50,000 prints every day – a serious commitment indeed, in high-volume manufacturing terms.
It was also interesting to see that, as a very large manufacturing company in its own right, HP is benefiting from its own 3D printers. Where it makes sense to do so, economically and in design terms, it is using MJF to build some of the parts contained within its own 3D printers.
One example is a fan duct that has been redesigned using software from Siemens to optimise airflow. Computational Fluid Dynamica (CFD) simulation was used here, as was topology optimisation, to create a part that takes advantage of some of the design freedoms offered by 3D printing. The result is a part that replaces a six-piece injection-moulded part, offering a 34% cost reduction, a 22% improvement in airflow and a development time 75% faster than that associated with its predecessor.
It’s not just the 3D printer division at HP that’s using MJF, either. Ten manufacturing areas within HP are hard at work with the technology, creating new parts for textile printers, spare parts for out-of-production large-format printers, and fixtures for the company’s packaging lines.
The Centre boasts more than 150,000 square feet of cutting-edge innovation space and will bring together hundreds of the world’s leading additive manufacturing experts
Having assembled a solid line-up of polymer printing solutions and applications, HP is now firmly focused on developing MJF for metals, with what it calls Metal Jet, scheduled to debut in 2020.
The company has a clear idea on which markets it will target with this technology – and it’s not aerospace, where a great deal of metal additive manufacturing activity is already focused, but instead sectors such as medical and industrial equipment, and automotive, where metal injection moulding (MIM) is widely used.
Metal Jet builds on five years of learning accrued in the development of MJF for polymers, because it utilises the same print heads as current machines. At the same time, it promises to be 50 times faster than laser-based metal machines and offer several advantages over MIM, including greater design freedom. Metal Jet machines from HP are expected to cost less than $399,000 at launch.
Partnership is equally important to Metal Jet as to other areas of HP’s push into 3D printing, as evidenced by the involvement of GKN’s powder metallurgy division, which brings its specialist expertise in MIM to the table. GKN has seen MIM use flatlining, so in strategic terms, metals 3D printing makes a great deal of sense to the company as a possible new growth area, with the potential not just as an alternative way to produce parts made with MIM today, but also larger, more complex parts.
One final theme that was mentioned several times is the skills that will be needed to take advantage these new technologies and approaches. As Ramon Pastor, HP’s global head of plastics solutions, 3D printing and digital manufacturing put it: “The more engineers and designers we educate in design for additive manufacturing, the quickly this business will scale.”
Here, the new Barcelona centre has an important role to play, as a venue where HP can engage with customers, assisting those with expertise in established manufacturing techniques to better understand how they can design for MJF, as well as ‘training the trainers’ who will take these skills development out into the field.
In summary, this latest step in HP’s commitment to 3D printing advances is impressive, especially the move into using MJF for volume manufacturing and the clear potential of Metal Jet. This new facility in Barcelona will clearly be a vital tool in delivering the company’s vision of where 3D printing and digital manufacturing should go over the next few years.
At its LiveWorx event in Boston, PTC CEO Jim Heppelmann explained how a ‘digital thread’ connects the company’s diverse product line-up, with the potential for significant benefits for customers, as Jessica Twentyman reports
PTC CEO and chairman Jim Heppelmann addresses LiveWorx attendees
For manufacturing companies of all kinds, the ‘digital thread’ seems pretty promising, with its purported benefits of improved product quality, reduced cost and increased productivity.
The idea of a continuous, seamless strand of data, connecting every stage of a product’s lifecycle, is by no means unique to PTC.
Oracle, IBM, Aras and others are all banging the same drum. But it’s certainly one that plays rather well with the company’s overall strategy, neatly tying together an increasingly diverse product portfolio.
So it wasn’t a big surprise to see the digital thread take centre stage during PTC chief executive Jim Heppelmann’s opening keynote at the company’s LiveWorx annual user conference in Boston this June.
As he told attendees, “A digital thread means that information that was originally created for one purpose – say, an engineering prototype – gets reused for many different purposes. In this way, the digital thread weaves its way across the value chain.”
In other words, and as PTC executives see it, the data relating to a product designed in its 3D CAD product Creo should subsequently flow into its product lifecycle management (PLM) product Windchill.
From there, it can provide the basis for newer applications on the smart factory floor, using the company’s Internet of Things (IoT) platform ThingWorx and its augmented reality (AR) toolset Vuforia.
A case in point
This isn’t just smart marketing-speak, either: PTC was able to present as evidence a number of large, industrial customers at LiveWorx for whom the digital thread idea seems to make sense.
One of them is Volvo Group, the global manufacturer of trucks, buses, construction equipment and industrial engines.
“There are two main reasons for our interest in the digital thread. The first is quality, which has always been a major focus for our company; and the second is the cost of managing great product diversity,” said Volvo Group’s manufacturing innovation and technology manager Bertrand Felix.
In 2018, he explained, Volvo Group built some 260,000 trucks, with almost every single one configured slightly differently. Windchill thus provides the ‘recipe’ for each and every truck, many parts for which are designed in Creo.
More recently, Volvo has equipped factory-floor staff with iPads that overlay their view of an engine with information about the inspection tasks they need to perform, using ThingWorx and Vuforia.
“We are convinced that, through a solid and trusted digital thread, with consistent data from design to production down to aftermarket, we can enable operators to receive the right instructions, at the right time and matching the right product,” said Felix.
LiveWorx attendees get to grips with augmented reality
For PTC to successfully sell this digital thread vision to more customers, of course, it must persuade them that each product in its wide portfolio stands on its own merits. To do that, it must keep them all moving along at a steady clip, in development terms.
While Heppelmann’s LiveWorx keynote was notably lacking in big product news announcements, many emerged during the conference and over the weeks following the event.
There’s the release of Creo 6, for example, which introduces new simulation capabilities with Creo Simulation Live, thanks to PTC’s tie-up with simulation specialist Ansys. Creo 6 also includes new AR capabilities with Creo AR Design Share and new features that enable users to design with additive manufacturing in mind. (Read our full review of Creo 6 at tinyurl.com/D3DCreo6).
On the PLM front, there was the news that Windchill will be made available on the Microsoft Azure cloud platform. In addition, PTC’s Integrity tools for application lifecycle management and systems engineering will be integrated with Windchill and rebranded with the Windchill name. It’s a clear nod to the world of smart, connected devices, where the operating systems and software updates that a product relies on need to be managed just as efficiently its mechanical components.
For Vuforia, there’s the introduction of Vuforia Expert Capture, which enables employees to create step-by-step instructions for colleagues to follow, by performing tasks – setting up a piece of machinery, for example, or performing a repair on it – wearing a Microsoft HoloLens head-mounted device (HMD).
With Vuforia Engine 8.3, meanwhile, PTC is combining AR with artificial intelligence (AI). The point here is to enable products or machines to be automatically recognised during an AR experience, even from difficult angles or in poor lighting, based on the customer’s 3D CAD model for it – another good example of the digital thread at work.
Finally, on ThingWorx, there was the announcement that version 8.5 is due to be made commercially available later this summer.
A big focus here is making it easier for customers to deploy industrial IoT applications, by offering more pre-built and pre-configured capabilities in the platform.
Another is service automation, with sensors on a product already in use by a customer alerting its manufacturer to any potential issue – an electrical fault with an office-block elevator or a factory-floor bottling machine that is running more slowly than usual, for example.
In this way, manufacturers can build their service revenues, through offering more responsive maintenance and repair services.
Entrance to the event’s 200,000 square foot Xtropolis Exhibit Hall
In 2018, PTC used LiveWorx to focus on its ThingWorx and Vuforia solutions, both acquired technologies, to a far greater degree.
This year’s event, by contrast, took a more holistic view of how the different parts of the PTC product stack fit together, enabling the digital thread and, in particular, helping manufacturing employees in their day-to-day work.
All in all, it was a confident performance by a company seemingly in good shape to take advantage of the significant opportunities ahead. Heppelmann certainly didn’t appear to lack ambition, telling attendees, “I want to make it easy to decorate the industrial world with real-time information that your workers need to be as safe and productive as humanly possible. That would be hugely transformational.”
Brian Thompson, senior vice president, CAD segment at PTC
Interview with Brian Thompson SVP CAD Segment, PTC
“There’s something special going on right now in CAD,” says Brian Thompson, senior vice president of the CAD segment at PTC. Customers, he claims, are starting to get a real sense that a mature engineering practice, built on strong CAD and product lifecycle management (PLM) products, is critical to their overall digital transformation strategies.
“They’re finally seeing that link and that’s forcing them to go back and rethink their processes, right at the core, in engineering, where the digital thread begins,” he says.
At the same time, he adds, a host of new technologies are coming down the line that promise nothing less than a ‘renaissance’ in industrial design, and will ultimately assist those customers in identifying better ways to compete, increasing internal efficiencies and getting products to market faster.
There’s plenty to dissect here and there’ll be plenty of engineers who don’t see that kind of thinking at work within their own organisations. But the signal that PTC wants to send to the market is clear: the company’s strength (and its value to customers) lies in the sum of its various parts – CAD, PLM, Internet of Things (IoT) and augmented reality (AR). While IoT and AR may be seen as growth drivers for the company, it’s still the mainstay CAD and PLM products that account for the vast majority of revenues. So tying them all these products together with a compelling overall message makes definite sense.
What’s indisputable here is that CAD technology is changing fast and that Thompson and his team will need to work hard to incorporate new developments into Creo. Take, for example, the integration of Frustum’s generative design technology, acquired in November 2018. This will debut in Creo 7, now less than a year away.
Thompson concedes that there’s always potential for slippage on projects of this kind, and he certainly won’t rush things, but he’s confident his team is on track. “We refuse to deliver a point solution to the market. I will not do that,” he says. “We’re going to deliver a solution to market that’s deeply integrated with Creo, so that every customer who wants to can get access to the technology as part of their core workflow and not be forced to leave the core design environment that they use every day in order to get the benefits of what generative technology can do for them.”
Some of the best AR applications rely on data that originates in CAD, say PTC execs
Simulation is also a vital part of this renaissance picture, says Thompson, adding that it’s been great to see how Creo Simulation Live, powered by technology from Ansys, has been received by customers. “There’s a huge amount of interest around this,” he says.
So much interest, in fact, that the company has taken the decision to back-port the live simulation capabilities into Creo 4.0, in order that a wider group of customers can experience it for themselves, without having to upgrade to Creo 6, as Jim Heppelmann revealed on the company’s second-quarter earnings call with financial analysts in April.
Looking ahead, once the integration of Frustum is complete, its AI-driven generative design capabilities will combine with Creo Simulation Live, to enable customers to first automatically generate a design and subsequently iterate it to reach the best end result, all directly within Creo.
At the same time, PTC has also added design for additive manufacturing and AR-enabled design review to Creo, on the basis that the CAD product that best encapsulates this renaissance, and incorporates as many of the new technologies as possible without forcing users to rely on point solutions, will ultimately win the battle for customers’ attention and budgets.
In short, there’s more of a buzz around CAD at PTC than there has been for some time. Heppelmann admitted as much on that recent earnings call, saying, “Our long-term view of the CAD opportunity is more bullish now than it has been for years.”
Thompson, meanwhile, is buzzing. “I’m really excited, but I’m trying not to be too crazy about it all,” he says. “But customers are really paying close attention, there are all these new technologies, and I feel like we’ve got some serious mojo going.”
After spending years on testing different prototypes and designs Domin Fluid Power has launched a new range of fluid servo valves developed with metals 3D printing technology at its core.
An example product is 25 per cent of the original size and 25 per cent more powerful, while being produced at a third of the cost, with much of the benefits arising through collaboration with additive manufacturing experts Renishaw.
“We’ve worked with Domin throughout the whole process, from investigating material properties, to exploring the advantages of using the latest technologies, such as the RenAM 500Q, in production,” explained Renishaw AM lead technical consultant Martin McMahon.
Simcenter can now help maximise antenna and sensor performance and address electromagnetic interference
The latest version of Siemens Digital Industries Software’s Simcenter 3D software features some major enhancements for low- and high-frequency electromagnetic solutions to help accelerate their simulation processes.
Increased multidisciplinary integration capabilities, faster CAE process, openness and scalability are additional upgrades in what looks like a move to add greater capabilities to the software to allow it to integrate with what Siemens calls its ‘digital thread’.
With more electronics included in products, it’s becoming even more important for engineers to understand how electromagnetic performance can potentially affect products, with Simcenter 3D looking to take the lead on electromagnetic simulation and streamline multi-physics workflows between electromagnetic and other physical simulations.
Recycled coffee beans are being used to create a new fabric yarn with some interesting properties you perhaps wouldn’t expect while downing your fifth Monday morning espresso.
The basis of footwear start-up Rens’ latest sneakers, the upper is knitted from a blend of coffee yarn and recycled polyester, before a waterproof nano membrane is laminated between the shoe upper and inner lining.
Aside from the waterproof properties of the membrane layer, the coffee yarn brings some other bonuses - its antibacterial, has micro-pockets in its structure that help trap and release bad odours and dry twice as fast as standard polyester, and it is resistant to fading by UV light.
Known predominantly for its wide range of 3D printers for the education and consumer markets, XYZPrinting has a backstory worthy of a dark and brooding superhero - it’s owners are a huge contract manufacturer.
Its parent company, New Kinpo Group, are OEMs for a huge range of electronics brands and products [fun fact: chances are that if you’ve ever used a digital calculator, NKG made it] and has the manufacturing and factory nous to move its 3D printing kit into the realm of professional additive manufacturing.
The first signs of this were mentioned at the end of 2018, and already its professional range is expanding - with more still to come - adding the large volume SLS MfgPro230 xS to the range.