To 3D Print or Not to 3D Print? No More Questions

The system will employ a methodology the team dubs SAM-CT (Size, Accuracy and Materials + Economic Evaluation of Cost and Throughput) to determine 3D printing viability.

There’s no question that additive manufacturing is a disruptive technology. But there’s also no denying that engineers have many questions when it comes to figuring out if AM is a viable way to produce their products, as well as just what kind of AM technology best maps to their needs.

SME, a non-profit that promotes advanced manufacturing technology and helps develop a skilled workforce, has teamed up with General Motors and a professor long steeped in the engineering field to create an evaluation system tasked with helping manufacturers make better decisions about how and when to leverage 3D printing. The partners are developing a web-based evaluation system—an expert system of sorts—to help manufacturers more effectively evaluate their options and make choices even if they don’t have a deep bench of AM talent on staff, according to Michael Grieves, Ph.D., a lead on the project and the executive director at the Center for Advanced Manufacturing and Innovative Design, at the Florida Institute of Technology.

“There’s a proliferation of these machines, but in absence of having the right information, people aren’t going to make the move to additive manufacturing,” explains Grieves, who says the AM industry is currently very fragmented making it harder for manufacturers to get answers to these questions. “They’re not going to take a chance on AM unless they can figure out whether this is really a good opportunity for them.”

Grieves and his team got the idea for the system after being approached by a chief scientist at GM, who was grappling with an array of issues, from evaluating whether specific parts were a candidate for AM to whether or not it was actually cost effective as a production method. “You can print a chassis for an automobile today, but the problem is it costs 100 times more to do it that way,” Grieves says. “That’s not a good use of AM resources.”

There is an I in TEAM

The result of the collaboration is the Independent Technical Evaluation of Additive Manufacturing (ITEAM) solution, an expert system that will compare and calculate a number of factors related to 3D printing, including the best machine for the job or what materials and processes lend themselves to a specific application. The expert system will also have a community section, where users can share experiences and provide feedback on specific 3D printing equipment and techniques—even wade in with their two cents on materials and create specialized apps to help further streamline decision making.

ITEAM will serve as a central resource by providing a virtual repository of AM machine and materials capabilities. It will also furnish an open platform and set of evaluation tools to help engineers through the process of determining their part’s suitability for AM against a repertoire of machines and materials, officials said.

SME is a logical asset for hosting a third-party repository, Grieves maintained. The system will employ a methodology the team dubs SAM-CT (Size, Accuracy and Materials + Economic Evaluation of Cost and Throughput), which is currently under development. The system will allow engineers to evaluate whether something “can” or “should” be produced with AM, or if better methods exist based on cost and throughput.

“Success with AM is very dependent on the specific machines used in the process,” Grieves explains. “The issue becomes how do I evaluate my design and parts to be sure they can be manufactured in this manner.”

The team is looking to commercially release the ITEAM expert system in early 2018.

Check out this video to learn more about how GM is leveraging AM as part of its design and manufacturing processes.

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Beth Stackpole's avatar
Beth Stackpole

Beth Stackpole is a contributing editor to Digital Engineering. Send e-mail about this article to [email protected].

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