Generative design is advancing toward more automated design solutions for additive manufacturing.
During my visit last month to Ventura, California to see operations inside XponentialWorks, I spent a good deal of time talking 3D printing, including with SLA-focused Nexa3D and SLS-focused NXT Factory. An important segment of the industry, though, is software, and it is here that ParaMatters shines under the XponentialWorks umbrella.
3D Printing Software
To get a good part out of a 3D printer, you need to put a good design in. To get that good design — well, that’s where the software comes into play.
One of the big buzz words (phrases) in the industry today is “generative design”, in which the software itself helps in generating the design, working through possibilities and permutations faster than a human designer — or even a team of them — ever could. These designs are advanced, leveraging the complexities of geometry and lightweighting made possible with additive manufacturing processes. They often look nothing like what a person would have designed, with more ‘honeycomb’ and other futuristic-looking features that are also somewhat similar to those seen in nature, such as internal bone structures.
During my time at XponentialWorks, I caught up with ParaMatters Co-Founder and CTO Michael Bogomolny, PhD, who came in virtually to join my sitdown with XponentialWorks Founder and CEO / ParaMatters Co-Founder and Chairman Avi Reichental.
Bogomolny stressed that ParaMatters is working to ease the workflow in design.
“Today’s flow requires a lot of manual work. At ParaMatters, this is more automatic. Our final validation as a STEP file can go back into CAD and is compatible with any 3D printer, with any CAD format; no other company does this as a one-click solution,” he said. “To additively manufacture this product, the software also suggests the optimal build orientation. And, not commercially available quite yet but close to it, is a way to generate support structures. Other companies generate supports based on heuristics or experience; we use generative design and achieve supports in lattice structures of different thicknesses.”
There’s a good bit to unpack in there, as Bogomolny’s notes indicate a good deal of automated functionality within CogniCAD.
They have the work to back up the claims, though, as illustrated shortly before our conversation in a webinar presented with OnShape that showed how generative design can integrate into today’s CAD solutions and created a fully manufacturable waterproof model in that sub-half-hour timespan. Work within XponentialWorks also indicates functionality; Reichental noted that the Nexa3D team had recently tested out the upcoming support generation feature on their NXE400 3D printers with “pretty good” results that showed it was “very easy to break off the supports” appropriately.
Moving along the company’s digital thread, Bogomolny noted that ParaMatters focuses on part design, and will also work in quality control.
“We want to remove all the labor-intensive aspects from the workflow,” he told me.
Work in investment casting with voxeljet highlighted a better-quality, lower-cost solution for sacrificial molds than had previously been achieved with laser sintering processes. This, Bogomolny pointed out, is hybrid manufacturing “which could deliver very high-quality parts.” Some of these parts were shown off at the XponentialWorks stand at RAPID + TCT, where they were met with great interest, particularly in their finishing processes: “There were none, because they were cast parts.”
There’s been a good deal of interest from the aerospace, automotive, and heavy industry sectors in what can be created through new means of manufacturing relying on generative design.
“They’re interested in high-performance design,” Bogomolny said. “Generative design and topology optimization was a niche for advanced simulation designers, but now someone who just wants a nice design and doesn’t know the loads and stresses is able to still get a design that works. AI can suggest load cases by selecting that option, then defining boundary points, and the user is good to go.”
To test this out, he showed me a simulation model where one part had been AI-generated and another created when engineers knew the exact load conditions; in the end, both parts looked similar.
“This opens the window to a situation where we have more data, so have more ability, more robustness in the algorithm,” he said.
Since our conversation at formnext, where we focused on features such as mesostructure optimization, work at ParaMatters has been in full swing, as underscored by the 2.1 release.
The high points Bogomolny wanted to emphasize are the use of the AI engine to democratize design; the solution in investment casting; and that CogniCAD is the “only solution to generate STL and STEP files in a one-click solution. I’m convinced we’re the only company to offer viable one-click manufacturing solutions with manufacturing use.”
Reichental noted that this enhanced ease of automation is both “exciting and scary.”
“Working with CAD, it’s exciting to see this seamless integration. It’s scary to see how quickly this one-click, automated function is changing the work work of design engineers. This could scare engineers as much in the beginning as it excites them — it can make expert engineers and less-expert engineers work on the same path.”
CogniCAD is a cloud-based tool that functions at “really high resolution,” as Bogomolny noted. A hydraulic manifold, for example, had 60 million elements, offering significant complexity. The cloud nature of the software makes it more accessible — “where even small companies without big budgets can create these designs,” he added. Reichental called this an “elastic cloud architecture” where users only pay for what they use; the lack of hardware or installation helps to notably cut down on costs.
Generative design as a more streamlined, accessible solution is certainly of great interest to the industry today — and not just 3D printing. Bogomolny was able to name several major automotive OEMs, and unable to name even more in aerospace, who have reached out to ParaMatters to inquire about the solution. As of our July conversation, the team were in talks with several dozen potential resellers, and had strong indications of many to be signing on very soon.