3D Software

INTERVIEW: AMFG CEO Keyvan Karimi on the importance of connectivity in the AM workflow

Headquartered in London, AMFG provides software that will help move industrial 3D printing to production. Specifically, the company has developed a Manufacturing Execution System (MES) and workflow automation software for additive manufacturing. Keyvan Karimi, CEO and Founder, launched the company in 2014 with the vision of helping manufacturers scale up their additive manufacturing operations. 

Speaking with Karimi, 3D Printing Industry learns more about the importance of connectivity to achieving scalable additive manufacturing workflows, and how AMFG plans to provide this connectivity for manufacturers through its MES software and its partnerships with the likes of Autodesk and EOS. “Connectivity is important for scalability, particularly as we look towards using AM for serial and end-part production,” adds Karimi. “For AM to make this transition, scalability – the ability to increase production, number of machines etc. – will be key.”

AMFG’s MES software enables OEMs and Tier 1 suppliers to streamline the entire additive manufacturing workflow, from order management and job costing to production scheduling and post-processing management (QMS). 

Recently, AMFG collaborated with 3D design software developer Autodesk to integrate both their respective software solutions, MES and Netfabb/Fusion 360, in order to create a fully connected workflow. The company believes that the question of connectivity is one of the biggest hurdles preventing manufacturers from adopting the technology. This is especially true for global manufacturers seeking to connect their production sites and supply chains around the world: “Connectivity is key to operational efficiency, traceability and productivity within AM,” explains Karimi.

“As manufacturers look to scale their AM operations, they will need to manage and execute these operations across their supply chains and, very often, across multiple production centres. This requires integrated processes that can respond to real-time demands — in other words, connectivity.”

Keyvan Karimi - AMFG CEO. Photo via AMFG.
Keyvan Karimi – AMFG CEO. Photo via AMFG.

What is connectivity in additive manufacturing – and why is it important?

Connectivity in the additive manufacturing workflow can be divided across three key areas: machines, processes and supply chains. Enabling connectivity in each of these areas is important for manufacturers to integrate their processes and scale their additive manufacturing operations. 

Machine connectivity refers to the ability to transfer data seamlessly between a 3D printer and MES workflow software. Explaining the advantages of this form of connectivity, Karimi states that it allows for increased traceability for manufacturers: “This offers the benefit of machine control and greater visibility into real-time operations, and it also means that companies can leverage the increasing amount of machine and production data to identify potential bottlenecks and optimise their processes.”

As well as tracing backwards, machine connectivity in AMFG’s MES software also enables manufacturers to predict the quality of parts that are yet to be 3D printed. “Currently, quality in AM can be difficult to predict or control – for example, temperature variations during the printing process can quickly lead to quality issues, such as deformations,” comments Karimi. “Machine connectivity enables better control of the process. So in this example, MES software that is integrated with AM machines could be used to read sensor data from the machines and feedback that data so that the process can be optimised.”

AMFG’s MES software offers machine analytics data. Image via AMFG.
AMFG’s MES software offers machine analytics data. Image via AMFG.

Moving on to the next area, process connectivity refers to the connection between a company’s internal workflows, as well as its production centres. Karimi explains that a number of AMFG’s customers operate globally, and a significant issue for them surrounds the ability to connect all of their production centres and operations. For example, two of AMFG’s customers are multinational consumer goods manufacturers who are using the company’s MES software to manage and connect its internal production across a network of sites. Both customers were looking for a software platform that could easily scale with their operational expansion. “By connecting their operational processes, our software is helping manufacturers gain better visibility into their operations and better optimise resources and production.”

Finally, supply chain connectivity concerns OEMs and suppliers. Enabling an efficient connection between the two enables better communication and traceability across the supply chain. “For example, several of our customers plan to use our software to manage the outsourcing of certain production tasks to their existing network of suppliers,” states Karimi. “With both sides – OEMs and their suppliers – using our platform, the result is a streamlined workflow which is significantly more efficient.”

AMFG Production Scheduling. Image via AMFG.
AMFG Production Scheduling. Image via AMFG.

How does AMFG’s MES software enable connectivity in the AM workflow?

With the key areas identified, how does AMFG aim to accelerate connectivity in the AM process chain with its MES software? Karimi explains that one of the ways in which AMFG is advancing connectivity is through partnerships and collaboration. 

In the case of machine connectivity, in November 2019 AMFG announced a partnership with German 3D printer OEM EOS, aimed at enabling MES software connectivity with EOS machines. “One of the biggest barriers to machine connectivity,” suggests Karimi, “is the hardware.” Many additive manufacturing systems are closed and lack standardised interfaces, making connectivity impossible. However, Karimi notes that this is slowly changing: “As companies continue to invest in a diverse range of industrial printers, hardware manufacturers are recognising the value of ensuring that their systems can integrate with workflow software.”

As such, AMFG’s partnership with EOS is another step towards increased connectivity between machines and software. Customers using AMFG’s MES software are provided with direct machine control and end-to-end workflow automation of EOS 3D printers: “Users can prepare builds and send sliced file data to an EOS machine, whilst using AMFG to manage production operations. We are working on being able to monitor and receive machine data in real time. We truly believe that the next phase for AM will be about connectivity, integration and automation,” adds Karimi.

AMFG’s MES software facilitates connectivity at every stage of the AM workflow. Image via AMFG.
AMFG’s MES software facilitates connectivity at every stage of the AM workflow. Image via AMFG.

AMFG is also addressing process connectivity in its collaboration with Autodesk. The partnership allows users to prepare their 3D files for printing in Autodesk’s design software, and then easily transfer those files over to AMFG’s workflow simulation for management and integration within the entire process chain. “The aim here is to create an end-to-end digital workflow from design to production. In practice, this will mean that users can complete all of the design and preparation tasks using Autodesk, and then seamlessly manage the production side of things – such as scheduling and build preparation – in our software,” comments Karimi. 

But why is connectivity important at the design stage of the additive manufacturing workflow? Alexander Oster, Director of Additive Manufacturing at Autodesk, suggests that without a connected MES software, design changes have to be tracked manually, production changes are completed with print out sheets, and last-minute design changes can prove cumbersome. “Having a connected workflow means all design changes can be tracked and the production schedule can be accommodated. Today there are very powerful vertical tools that serve a certain purpose (CAD, Print Prep, Print Simulation etc.), but by having a horizontal layer connecting the different processes, they can be used more effectively and to their full potential,” explains Oster. 

“By connecting our Additive software with AMFG, there is now the possibility to automate the entire workflow. This includes, quote generation, design for additive, build preparation, build validation, job scheduling etc.” 

AMFG’s customers are already benefiting from the connectivity provided by its MES software. For example, a large automotive firm is currently using AMFG’s technology to connect its global network of production centres, suppliers and internal users. According to Karimi, “The company is producing hundreds of thousands of parts each year with AM and this volume of production means that coordinating operations across geographies is challenging without connectivity.” As such, the unnamed firm has leveraged MES software to automatically route orders to their production centres worldwide, as well as to their suppliers. AMFG is now working to connect the firm’s Tier 1 suppliers to the MES platform, so the client is equipped with a fully integrated and agile supply chain. 

The end goal, for AMFG, lies in facilitating the scalability necessary for additive manufacturing at an industrial scale: “Ultimately, one of the biggest barriers to scalability within additive manufacturing is the lack of a seamless, end-to-end workflow because of disconnected, manual steps. Our work in driving a more connected, integrated value chain is to provide the traceability and scalability needed to push AM to industrialisation,” concludes Karimi. 

To learn more about AMFG’s MES solutions, visit their website. For an in-depth guide to Additive MES software and how it can help manufacturers scale their AM operations, read AMFG’s white paper here

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Featured image shows AMFG’s MES software facilitates connectivity at every stage of the AM workflow. Image via AMFG.