3D Software

Hexagon Live 2023: Hexagon CEO and Additive Manufacturing Solutions Director on the vision for industrial 3D printing

Hexagon Live 2023 successfully brought together a vast number of individuals and enterprises focused on digital transformation, but where does 3D printing fit into it all?

I asked Hexagon’s CEO about his vision for additive manufacturing. Paolo Guglielmini started by explaining the crucial role of MSC Software, an innovative suite of Computer-Aided Engineering (CAE) tools, in advancing Hexagon’s competitive standing. “Some of the spikes in the competitiveness were coming from mathematical simulation and the accuracy of those models.” 

“It’s such a natural fit,” he said, linking the application of Hexagon technology to additive manufacturing. However, Guglielmini candidly expressed that industrial 3D printing’s promise is not yet fully realized. And this is why he is “super excited” about Divergent, the US company behind the Divergent Adaptive Production System, and Czinger Vehicles 21C hypercar. “What they’re doing is a paradigm shift.” Hexagon made a $100 million investment in Divergent, and with multiple appearances at Hexagon Live 2023, it would be unsurprising to learn of an expanded relationship between the two enterprises. 

“3D printing is incredibly multidisciplinary”, but the CEO believes the landscape is fragmented, with vendors disconnected from material suppliers. At Divergent, he sees this siloed approach being replaced by a more integrated, agile method where data scientists, material specialists, and 3D printing experts work closely together to improve the full technology stack.

Guglielmini sees a movement towards improving throughput, quality, and reliability as the future of 3D printing. The CEO envisages an exciting future for 3D printing, predicting success for the likes of Mercedes, embracing the Divergent approach by 2024. 

In Guglielmini’s worldview, the potential of 3D printing and the agile development of software are more than mere tools for making money – they are transformative forces that will change how we produce and what we prioritize.

Read more about Hexagon Live 2023 here.

Hexagon Live 2023 was attended by 3600 people. Photo by Michael Petch.
Hexagon Live 2023 was attended by 3600 people. Photo by Michael Petch.

Additive Manufacturing at Hexagon

After asking the CEO about the grand vision for additive at Hexagon, I sat down with Mathieu Perennou, the leader of Additive Manufacturing Solutions at Hexagon Manufacturing Intelligence, for an insider’s perspective on the current state and future trends in 3D printing and its integration into broader manufacturing strategies.

A mechanical engineer by education, Perennou has spent much of his career in the digital realm, focusing on manufacturing process modeling and simulation. Having been involved in the nascent stages of additive manufacturing technology, he’s watched the field mature from a relatively obscure process to a mainstream manufacturing tool with vast potential.

“Additive manufacturing was really interesting. When we first came up with [Simufact] our solution for metal processes, we were one of the first ones,” Perennou said, “So I saw the opportunity, and I said okay, we really need to push that.” 

His path led him to a more global role at Hexagon, overseeing solutions supporting the additive manufacturing process, from product design to quality inspection. But this rapid growth, according to him, does not mean that additive manufacturing will replace traditional manufacturing methods.

“The vision that I have is that it’s still relatively immature. Adoption is maybe not where everybody hoped it would be. There are reasons for that, but it will find its own place in manufacturing processes. It can do things that other processes cannot do. It doesn’t replace everything.”

Perennou’s assessment of the additive manufacturing market is that despite significant hype, actual market penetration and adoption remain less than predicted. He explains that one reason is the current issues with quality and process reliability. There remains, he says, “a big question mark over quality,” which is inhibiting the adoption of additive manufacturing for critical components, especially in industries like aerospace.

An additional hurdle that Perennou identifies is a knowledge or expertise gap. As a new field, there are relatively few experts in additive manufacturing, and traditional CAD systems do not adequately consider the design constraints of additive manufacturing.

“We need to help people design a part that is fit for AM [Additive Manufacturing] and also make sure that you develop a process that makes it,” he noted. Part of the solution to this problem, he suggests, might be software that can assess whether a part can be printed as-is or with redesigns and then feed that information into engineering workflows.

“However, what is today kind of being a roadblock, let’s say, is quality. It’s not easy to assess. And, of course, there’s a lack of norms or standards.” 

Perennou’s insights point to a future where additive manufacturing will find its place within the broader manufacturing ecosystem. However, several significant challenges must be tackled, particularly around quality and education, before this technology can achieve its full potential.

Simufact: aiding design optimization and scaling industrial 3D printing

The dialogue turned towards the reception and use of Hexagon’s software, Simufact, in the additive manufacturing industry. “Simufact has been a leading software for a few years now. It’s widely used,” stated Perennou. He explained the program’s utility in the world of additive manufacturing: it is user-friendly for engineers rather than finite element analysis (FEA) experts, which broadens its accessibility.

Simufact’s unique selling point is an interface layer suitable for an additive manufacturing process engineer, simplifying the highly complex underlying solver software. This distinct approach to a user-friendly interface, coupled with real-world speed and accuracy, has made Simufact widely accepted. “Simulation doesn’t replace the real world, but it helps you make decisions upfront,” Perennou explained. 

The proprietary nature of process parameters in additive manufacturing – think of them as the secret ingredients in a recipe – has historically been a hurdle for industry-wide advancement. However, Hexagon has found an innovative workaround. It uses calculated simulation parameters that represent a supplier’s process but don’t give away the ‘recipe.’ Thus, intellectual property is preserved while still facilitating a simulation.

Perennou also touched upon the selective use of Simufact in critical part manufacturing, predominantly within the aerospace, defense, and medical industries. While confidentiality often restricts the ability to showcase the success of specific projects, he described how additive manufacturing is used for part consolidation and lightweighting, with Simufact aiding in optimization and lead time reduction. 

The conversation shifted toward the challenges of scaling additive manufacturing and how Hexagon software contributes to reducing engineering time and getting parts made correctly the first time around. Perennou likens simulation to a digital twin of the manufacturing process, debugging and mitigating manufacturing issues before the actual printing commences.

As Perennou sees it, the future of scaling depends on faster 3D printers, larger machines, or a higher volume of 3D printers. The concept of 3D printer farms is one way to address this issue. However, it doesn’t reduce the time it takes to print an individual part. 

Quality Assurance and Building Trust

From a quality assurance standpoint, additive manufacturing presents unique challenges. Perennou explains that his team primarily focuses on the “distortion risk of cracks or residual stresses” without considering the material itself. This is set to change with the planned integration of a module from Raytheon Technologies at the end of the year. 

The innovative module, introduced at Formnext 2022, aims to give insight into common material-related issues, such as lack of fusion and keyhole problems, using a mix of mathematical and machine learning approaches. Perennou explains: “This approach doesn’t require a lot of computation so that you can get an answer very quickly. And a pretty accurate answer, so that’s really the next step.”

Yet even with these advancements, the sector still grapples with quality issues. One of the biggest challenges is in-situ monitoring — a feedback control loop where ongoing production issues are identified and addressed. The aerospace industry, known for its stringent process qualification, tends to resist such strategies. 

But as Perennou suggests, the more mature the technology becomes, the more likely it will be accepted: “If you can prove that when you do that, you get the right quality, I think this will be accepted.”

“Will it scale? Yes. To what level, I don’t know,” Perennou admitted. “But right now, people say, ‘Oh, we need to go faster and everything.’ It will, but I think more important is the adoption and understanding of where you can use it.”

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