MetalFAB1 3D printer
MetalFAB1 3D printer
Create an interactive 3D animation of the Powder Extraction process of the Additive Industries’ MetalFAB1 3D printer.
Established in 2012 in Eindhoven, The Netherlands, Additive Industries was the world’s first dedicated equipment manufacturer for industrial metal additive manufacturing systems. Its modular and scalable MetalFAB1 system has been on the market successfully for just over five years now. Recently, the company announced the development of the next generation 3D metal printer, the MetalFAB-600, that it expects to present towards the end of this year.
Adrie Boverhof has been with Additive Industries for two years as a system architect and is pushing the use of Digital Twin technology within the company. “In earlier jobs, I have always seen the added value of animations and digital twins,” he says. About fifteen years ago, working for ASML, Boverhof started with POV-Ray, a freeware tool that allowed him to show how things would be moving in the metrology system he helped designing. “POV-Ray had one major advantage; it was the only tool with the option to upload your CAD designs directly. It was far from user-friendly, but once you got the hang of it, you could make excellent 3D graphics and animations. It provided beautiful insights in how the stages were moving and what their ranges were, for instance.”
Not very shocking with today’s technology, but at the time, an eye opener for the ASML organization. “We were flooded with questions,” Boverhof remembers smiling. “Even the marketing department was interested, as the animations were slick enough to entice potential customers, and to explain to them how the system was working.”
In his previous job at VDL ETG, Boverhof switched to Blender, an open-source platform for 3D modelling, animation and rendering. He used the tool to create animations of a wafer handler, vacuum robots and a sterilization machine, among others. When he started at Additive Industries, Boverhof immediately introduced Blender, to animate several machine routines. Then, the company got involved in the MACHINAIDE project, an European research program that aims to exploit digital twin data and achieve interoperability of multiple digital twin hosting eco-systems – with the help of artificial intelligence. This involvement meant that Additive Industries had the opportunity to switch to a real and professional digital twin platform. Boverhof and his colleagues selected Prespective.
“With pain in my heart, I had to say goodbye to Blender,” Boverhof admits. “But I am surprised of how similar the tool is to Prespective, and how much you can do with that digital twin platform.”
In that versality lays a potential danger. The term ‘digital twin’ has become a buzzword and many developments have been given that qualification. “You can do an awful lot with digital twin technology,” states Boverhof. “At Additive Industries, we had to look for the best possible application and how to embed it properly in the organization, since it crosses the borders of many departments: marketing, sales, customer support, development, to name a few. We decided to start using our first digital twin for training purposes, keeping in mind that we want to extend the possibilities later on.”
Additive Industries is the only developer of metal additive manufacturing systems that has integrated the extraction of the excess metal powder from the printing chamber inside its machine. “You can imagine that this raises many questions with potential buyers. They want to see how it works and what we have done. We could have made a schematic overview in PowerPoint, for example, but it is very tricky to get a clear insight in the labyrinth of tubes and valves. With the interactive digital twin we have build, you can select a machine function or a scenario, and turn and zoom in while the machine is running in the virtual world.”
“At Additive Industries, we had to look for the best possible application and I am surprised of how much you can do with Prespective.”
– Adrie Boverhof, Additive Industries
Digital twinning is a new skill for Additive Industries engineers. Even to an experienced animation and simulation expert as Boverhof it was too complex to start from scratch. ‘I don’t like to learn these kind of things from a book or a site; I rather go to a workshop and get hands-on training,” Boverhof explains. “Due to the Covid crisis though, attending an introductory course from Prespective was out of the question.”
Additive Industries opted for a different approach – a route that many other first-time users take as well. It asked consultants from Prespective to help them out and build the first version of digital twin. Boverhof: “First, I gave a rough introduction to the machine so that the guys at Prespective knew more or less what they were dealing with. Then we handed over all the CAD files.”
Although the engineers at Prespective had a pretty good idea how the system worked, they were no experts. “During our weekly video calls, we noticed sometimes that components were moving that shouldn’t move at all,” recalls Boverhof, quickly adding how much he appreciated the digital meetings. “These calls gave us the opportunity to alter and fine-tune the digital twin.”
Now that the first twin is finalized, Additive Industries is looking at new endeavors in their digital twin journey. Boverhof has big plans. “A digital twin is an ideal tool in the initial cycles of a new design, like for the new MetalFAB-600 we are working on now at the moment. There are tools available to simulate the productivity of your system beforehand, tools that you can easily connect to the digital twin in Prespective. Since productivity is one of the key parameters of our metal 3D printers, this certainly is a road we want to follow, so we can model and calculate different cycles and optimize our design.”
And he wants more: “The ultimate goal is to have a digital twin of the complete machine. However, the challenges are immense. We have to accurately model the melting and re-solidification of the powder, for instance. And the MetalFAB-600 will include ten fast-moving lasers that need to be modeled and simulated.”
Another issue is the limited availability of resources. “Although I strongly believe in the added value of digital twins, creating them will never be our core business. The software engineers we hire, we want to assign to the heart of the machine. That will not stop us from building up knowledge though. We have already learned a great deal from the first project. As said, for me attending those workshops is crucial. When we become more experienced using Prespective and can tweak it to our requirements, we can create moving models and get people enthusiastic. Then it will really take off.”
Additive Industries wants to use digital twinning for customer support, operations training and marketing. “Also, we plan to offer a digital twin as a feature to our customers so that they have real-time access to a virtual machine that runs parallel with the actual machine, and that shows the current status.”
To guide its customer through the learning curve, Prespective is still heavily involved in all digital twin activities at Additive Industries.
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