One of the sector’s biggest barriers to growth is the lack of fully functional CAD systems designed to exploit the emerging 3D printing industry, says Kieron Salter – managing director of additive manufacturing specialist, KW Special Projects (KWSP).
Modern manufacturing techniques – which typically build up (as opposed to subtracting) a variety of materials – desperately need their own bespoke set of CAD tools, which are still running hard to keep up with the pace of change.
Additive manufacturing has now moved beyond the capabilities of traditional CAD systems, which were originally developed to work with a subtractive CNC machining process.
We are used to designing components and forms, with the understanding that we’d begin with a block of metal that would then be cut, milled or ground to produce the final piece.
The advent of additive manufacturing has turned that concept on its head.
The challenge for developers of CAD packages is to get ahead of current manufacturing techniques, so that the design process is far more intuitive and efficient.
At the moment, the big CAD development houses are working hard to come up with a total, integrated solution, but this takes time.
What’s needed is a fundamental shift from geometric, subtractive thinking to more organic structures which fully exploit the benefits of additive manufacturing.
A great example of additive manufacturing in practice would be the construction of a tree’s roots. If a traditional CAD engineer was given this design task to be manufactured with traditional manufacturing methods, the outcome would have to be highly regular and uniform.
If designed to be manufactured using additive manufacturing, the solution would end up looking much more complex and organic.
In this way, parts developed via additive manufacturing look much more organic, as they take into account the key stresses and load paths of the manufactured item.
As pioneering additive manufacturing specialists, KW Special Projects (KWSP) is utilising finite element analysis tools to make design decisions first, then transposing this knowledge across to CAD.
This is still too complex a process and we’re waiting for readily available, integrated software that enables this to happen far more quickly. We want to see FE driving the design, and as an integrated design tool.
Additive manufacturing is such an exciting and dynamic area of manufacturing right now that CAD developers and even engineering course directors are finding it hard to keep up with the pace of change.
Once we have the right tools in place to design additive manufacturing based solutions more easily, then I predict another surge in growth of this technology.