Choosing the right application is key to getting the most out of additive manufacturing (AM) but finding that killer application can be a challenge.
To combat that, AM start-up CASTOR has developed an industrial 3D printing decision support software tool which aims to assist manufacturers in selecting parts with AM potential.
Founded in 2017, the Tel Aviv-based company has created a recommendation algorithm which conducts automated technical and economic analysis of CAD files to provide 3D printability feedback. Here, CASTOR CEO Omer Blaier talks us through how the technology works and how it can help optimise part lead times, costs and flexibility.
How important is in-house knowledge of additive manufacturing among enterprises?
Knowledge of AM has developed organically in most cases, and will differ with each organisation, industry and country. Some companies have developed very detailed knowledge, generally about their own applications. Not many will hire a specific AM professional, mainly because there are not huge numbers of them available. Recently, some educational institutions in the US and Europe have begun to offer formal diploma education in AM.
The way I see it, organisations without AM knowledge, in particular design knowledge, will generally miss out on opportunities to use AM where it makes sense to do so.
How is CASTOR addressing this issue?
Think of a decision support software, allowing manufacturers to make an informed decision whether to use 3D printing or not. By providing feedback on a part-by-part basis, CASTOR allows re-design for AM and recommends a suitable technology and material for printing the parts, while maintaining the functionality required by each user. We automate the time-consuming process of screening parts and analyse thousands of parts at once, easily highlighting business opportunities for cost reduction and lead time savings.
A huge benefit of AM is the ability to redesign parts purely for the technology – how does CASTOR go about making those recommendations?
CASTOR identifies not only the low hanging fruits out of an existing design, but also identifies opportunities for design for AM. The software focuses on several types of re-design recommendations, such as thin walls limitation: where the algorithm provides a “heat map” (red and green colours map), of the dangerous areas that might re-design, according to the printer minimum wall thickness limitation. Additional types of complex redesign recommendations, that we’ve developed especially for the new CASTOR Enterprise Solution, will be officially announced during Formnext week.
However, in many cases parts that cannot be made by AM ‘as-is’ could potentially be modified without much effort to be made suitable for AM. CASTOR also indicates in many cases the reasons why the part cannot be printed. Whether the manufacturer is willing or able to take that information and make the desired changes will vary greatly from organisation to organisation. Generally, it will take knowledge and experience to make the case for opening up a design and making the changes, with all the quality and regulatory hurdles that this may entail.
How does CASTOR gather data about AM processes and materials in order to perform financial analysis against traditional manufacturing?
CASTOR uses its own proprietary database and cost estimation equation, that has been generated based on 30,000 parts we’ve analysed over the last year and a half. In addition, we improve the break-even point vs traditional manufacturing costs and properties, using the inputs we get from service bureaus we work with, and our 3D experts. Eventually, almost all the figures we use as default in our software, are editable for the user, either for material properties sensitivity, either for 3D printing cost estimation and either for CNC/injection moulding costs.
Speaking of service bureaus, for those users without in-house 3D printing capabilities, where do you see service providers fitting in to the ecosystem?
Many companies will continue to work with service providers, in much the same way that many manufacturers will outsource their CNC work. There is evidence to suggest that some machine shops are now opening AM departments so they can offer AM as an option under one roof. The decision to buy a machine will always be driven by the business case, such as part volume and cost. Sometimes strategic considerations will dictate the purchase of systems for internal manufacturing. Advanced software tools, such as CASTOR’s platform, can certainly help manufacturers sharpen their thinking and understand where AM can make sense for them.
Last year CASTOR worked with Evonik to develop a platform to assess the printability of part designs and material options. What impact do you think advancements in material properties can have on the adoption of AM?
We do see that trend, which is why we offer our API solution, a tailor-made platform which is fully branded and customised for AM vendors such as materials or printer companies. This is exactly the case with Evonik’s 3D screener – a software tool that CASTOR developed for Evonik earlier this year. At the end of the day, manufacturers need parts that can perform at a price that makes sense. However good an AM process is, if the material properties are not good enough to meet the needs of an application, the manufacturer will stick to traditional manufacturing methods. Material properties have improved significantly in recent years across all AM process types, including polymers, metals, and ceramics. Bringing these developments to the attention of product developers and manufacturers through smart applications is an important factor that can help fuel the growth of AM, and at the same time inform manufacturers that the increasingly complex parts they are designing can potentially be made by AM. Material properties is an important part of the equation.
CASTOR has previously shared how Stanley Engineered Fastening implemented its first 3D printed metal part using the platform. Can you provide us with any other application examples where users have saved time and costs?
The software is mainly being used by low volume/high mix hardware products’ companies, either SMB’s or large enterprises. We’ve seen cases of parts consolidation (in plastics), that saved tens of thousands of dollars a year (400 USD per assembly) for end-use parts at 30-meter long / 4-meter high machine, during its first year in production, and cases of finding complex geometry plastics parts that save up to 120K USD per year, comparing to plastic machining (150 USD savings per part).
The challenges brought on by the COVID-19 crisis have made a compelling argument for the benefits of 3D printing. What’s your take on the role of 3D printing software like CASTOR can play?
The COVID-19 crisis has helped to demonstrate the advantages of speedy product development and rapid manufacturing process offered by AM. The economic calculus for printing a part versus making it traditionally is disrupted when the timeline for delivering the part is ‘as-soon-as-possible’ as a matter of life and death. It’s a supply chain issue. When the traditional supply chain catches up with demand, parts will in many cases go back to being made traditionally, primarily due to cost considerations. CASTOR’s software gives an immediate indicator of which parts can be printed immediately. When time is critical, a quick analysis and decision can be measured in lives saved.