IMTS 2022: geometric optimization technology and repeatability take center stage on day three

The 2022 International Manufacturing Technology Show (IMTS) changed course on its third day in Chicago, Illinois, with the opening of its Additive Manufacturing (AM) Conference. 

Featuring speeches made by leaders in everything from 3D printer to furnace manufacturing, the AM Conference has already raised critical questions about the future of additive technologies. Two of these issues, which appeared to gain particular traction among the audience at the event, geometric optimization and repeatability, also seemed to have become focus points on the showfloor. 

In an effort to find out more about IMTS’ emerging trends, and the direction in which the technologies around them are traveling, 3D Printing Industry’s Paul Hanaphy has spoken to the major players at McCormick Place in-person, and broken down how advances could benefit 3D printing stakeholders in the summary below. 

The entrance to the McCormick Place West Building that houses most of its 3D printing booths. Photo by Paul Hanaphy.
The entrance to the McCormick Place West Building which houses most of this year’s 3D printing booths. Photo by Paul Hanaphy.

Software-driven design optimization 

During Advanced Engineering Solutions’ Andreas Vlahinos’ presentation on IMTS day three, generative design quickly became one of the key themes. Vlahinos described advances in the technology over the last five years, which have seen it overcome compatibility problems around STL files, as a “paradigm shift.” 

Now, the firm’s CTO says “we can specify requirements, and the tool spawns designs” for users to choose from. This initiative, he adds, has seen the creation of “amazing lattice structures,” some of which are bio-inspired, that feature both enhanced weight savings and energy absorption characteristics. 

However, when asked about the generative design tools in Autodesk’s Fusion 360 software, Richard Stubley, a Manufacturing Specialist at the firm, said lightweighting isn’t really its primary benefit. According to Stubley, the program “allows customers to explore new designs that they never have time to do before,” and this unlocks much wider geometric opportunities. 

“The core benefit is that as a designer, I can concentrate on giving the best solution possible,” explained Stubley. “It allows me to look through a list of predesigns and components to work out actually, these are going to be the best ones. I want to do something different with the way this may have mechanical interfaces.”

“Lightweighting is of course a benefit, but it’s overshadowed by what generative design is giving designers as a possibility.” 

Similarly, Adrian Wood, Director of Strategic Business Development at Dassault Systèmes, explained how its 3DEXPERIENCE platform enables users to simulate their way to part optimization. Using the firm’s software, adopters are now able to design parts that are as light as possible while still satisfying structural requirements, before modeling how they might perform once printed. 

“Additive manufacturing is appealing because now suddenly you’re into a world of being able to create almost anything, versus machinery or three/four axes machines which are restricted,” said Wood. “But, it’s a pretty significant investment. So the idea of most of what we do, is we’re just about mitigating risks, right? You can try and see exactly how it works, precisely.”

FormAlloy CEO Melanie Lang delivering her speech on DED 3D printing at IMTS 2022. Photo by Paul Hanaphy.
FormAlloy CEO Melanie Lang delivering her speech on DED 3D printing at IMTS 2022. Photo by Paul Hanaphy.

Targeting 3D printing repeatability 

Another long-term trend that has regained momentum at IMTS, is the designing of machines with a focus specifically on high part repeatability. In a presentation on Wednesday morning, Melanie Lang, CEO of FormAlloy, emphasized the need for automation in achieving this, because “every time that an engineer touches a machine, you’ve lost your repeatability.”

With this in mind, the company is targeting the autonomous operation of its Directed Energy Deposition (DED) systems, via the introduction of real-time monitoring. As well as tracking things like melt pool dynamics, Lang also explained how off-axis optical monitoring now allows for corrections during manufacturing that keep layers consistent, and make part properties predictable. 

“It’s very important, especially in production, to be able to repeat the same product over and over. That way, you get the performance and the quality that you need to have a transition to that production.”

With its new QLS 820 3D printer, Nexa3D has also sought to target part consistency alongside high throughput batches, by designing it with an automation-focused architecture. The 350 x 350 x 400mm build volume machine can be controlled via the web dashboard it comes packaged with, which uses real-time data monitoring to provide users with end-to-end print traceability. 

Speaking earlier in the week, Mohit Chaudhary, a Senior Applications Engineer at Nexa3D, explained how the QLS 820’s control system optimizes the performance of a machine that uses dual units to feed the same build area and has rapid recoating capabilities, which enable it to hit a print speed of up to eight liters per hour. 

“Our dashboard system is what will help you control, regulate and monitor what’s going on between all your different systems based on dates, whether that be daily, weekly or monthly,” Chaudhary said. Ahead of the show, Nexa3D unveiled its foundational machine customers, with service bureaus Quickparts and JawsTec both having now fitted it at their facilities. 

The build area of Nexa3D's new QLS 820 3D printer. Photo by Paul Hanaphy.
The build area of Nexa3D’s new QLS 820 3D printer. Photo by Paul Hanaphy.

A premium 3D scanning exhibition 

Elsewhere, on the other side of this year’s IMTS, in McCormick Place’s East Building, several of the industry’s leading 3D scanner developers were exhibiting their latest devices. However, while the technology is sometimes marketed towards entry-level users or students, the products on display at the show were very much geared towards professional adopters. 

At Artec 3D, for instance, the team was allowing attendees to roll up and begin scanning a motorcycle frame using an Artec Leo 3D scanner in the middle of their booth. In doing so, the engineers were showcasing the device’s quality assurance applications. Artec’s team also explained how the Leo is being applied by household names like Ford, Tesla and NASA, while the Metropolitan Museum of Art uses it to create virtual twins of rare pieces. 

Likewise, a few booths away, Shining 3D was demonstrating a wide variety of scanners from its EinScan and FreeScan ranges. In the case of the former, the team highlighted the automotive applications of the EinScan HX 3D scanner as particularly promising, with the device being suited to capturing complex under-the-hood parts, despite its relatively modest $10,000 price tag. 

On the other side of its booth, the company also showcased its FreeScan UE Pro 3D scanner. Featuring a built-in photogrammetry system with metrology-grade accuracy, the more premium device was said to be ideal for industrial scanning applications, whether these be in inspection or reverse engineering.

Shining 3D's EinScan HX and EinScan Pro HD 3D scanners at IMTS 2022. Photo by Paul Hanaphy.
Shining 3D’s EinScan HX and EinScan Pro HD 3D scanners at IMTS 2022. Photo by Paul Hanaphy.

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Featured image shows the entrance to the McCormick Place West Building that houses most of its 3D printing booths. Photo by Paul Hanaphy.