3D Printers

[INTERVIEW] AON3D Launches Hylo and Basis: The Future of 3D Printing Software and Hardware

Montreal-based AON3D has unveiled its state-of-the-art Hylo 3D printer, described as the industry’s first ‘smart’ high-temperature model, alongside Basis, a groundbreaking additive manufacturing software. The combined launch is designed to enhance the 3D printing process of challenging materials such as carbon fiber composites and high-performance polymers which offer “greater specific strength than many metals, continuous use temperatures up to 260°C, and extreme chemical resistance,” according to the firm.

I spoke to Leif Tiltins, VP of Sales & Marketing at AON3D, to learn more.

AON3D Basis Software. Image via AON3D.
AON3D Basis Software. Image via AON3D.

The name Basis, was inspired by the Standard Handbook for Aerospace Engineers. Tiltins explained, “So what is your basis for determining are these good parts? Are there hidden defects?” To answer these concerns, AON3D has revamped its platform to integrate thermal simulation and a quality suite, allowing users to diagnose issues and qualify parts based on data.

The decision to release a new 3D printer and software concurrently stems from the realization that “the limiting factor in terms of success and scalability of a 3D printing platform was going to be the software upstream of the printer,” Tiltins noted. He pinpointed the challenge: while slicers have evolved in tool pathing support and placement, there is “zero real thermal intelligence” ingrained into them, which is crucial for the precision required in high-performance polymers.

Highlighting the inadequacies in current methods, Tiltins remarked, “Any default material is just going to be a broad-stroke approximation of how to handle that Polymer.” This necessitates tedious, manual adjustments by the user based on specific part geometry.

AON3D’s response to this issue is an innovation that bridges the gap between the G-code output and the machine. Tiltins explained, “We take your G-code, look at the actual part geometry and features being printed, and adapt it for the specific brand and type of material based on your geometry.” This is achieved using a “hybrid machine learning approach,” which transitions from a mere thermal simulation to a thermal optimization tool.

He further detailed the tool’s functionality, emphasizing its ability to perform “true transient simulation,” analyzing “multiple points within an individual bead, on almost a millimeter by millimeter basis of your print.” It employs a mix of “physics-like numerical methods and predictive modeling” to provide an accurate approximation of various parameters like overheating, layer weld strength, etc.

Referencing AON3D’s Chief Product Officer Kevin Han, and underscoring the tool’s significance, Tiltins stated, “The best time to fix mistakes is before you make them.”

Basis even considers factors as specific as “the flow rate of the air currents in your chamber,” revealing the depth of detail AON3D is committed to. As Tiltins summarized, this ambitious project was what the company dedicated its resources to after raising “quite a few million dollars” three years ago, aiming to address what they anticipated would be the “blocker in adoption” in the 3D printing sector.

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The AON3D Hylo 3D printer. Photo via AON3D.
The AON3D Hylo 3D printer. Photo via AON3D.

AON3D Advances 3D Printing Through Thermal Intelligence

Why is what Tiltins termed “thermal intelligence” so important?

“A lot of people don’t realize that when it comes to poor surface finish on overhangs, much is a thermal defect,” Tiltins noted, highlighting the importance of proper thermal properties in 3D printing. Titlins takes me through a demonstration that shows how excessive heat, if not distributed appropriately, can lead to print issues. “Once you get to a gap in the parts, the heat has fewer places to go,” he noted.

The VP emphasized the shortcomings of the slicing software on the market, “Current slicers do not take a dynamically responsive part feature-based approach.” AON3D’s aim is to avoid reinventing the slicer but rather “inject this layer of thermal intelligence” to address these challenges.

“It’s building intelligence into the process, not people, because it solves the labor force issue.” This approach ensures both novice and expert users benefit. The goal is to simplify the printing process, making it as straightforward as “clicking the print icon in Word.”

Basis software also has benefits for expert users. This includes being able to focus on complex problems, receive detailed feedback, and understand intricate data points about the specific materials being used. 

AON3D’s Hybrid Machine Learning Approach Aims for Efficient 3D Printing

A “hybrid machine learning approach” is pivotal. “If we tried to do this purely on a numerical methods basis, it would take a long, long time to simulate a print,” Tiltins said. “The way we’ve structured it, the simulations are much, much faster than printing, and don’t require using expensive materials for test prints. This can save customers thousands of dollars per part, by avoiding wasted labor and materials on the trial and error needed for traditional 3D printing.”

In summary, AON3D’s hybrid approach using machine learning seeks to enhance the efficiency and specificity of 3D printing drastically, ensuring optimal material utilization and performance.

Addressing the potential hassle of determining process parameters for every possible material, Tiltins clarified, “We’re able to quickly qualify and onboard new materials to the platform. We have a lot more sensors and lab equipment and capabilities here at HQ.” He further emphasized the role of physics-based inputs and existing datasets, noting that “this is something that only gets better with time as well as the fleet size grows and as the product maturity grows.”

When quizzed on material availability at launch, Tiltins mentioned partnering with existing suppliers. He explained the selection criteria: “Known reputable brands chosen based on supply chain quality, consistency, availability, all the metrics you want to see, including the Readyprint filament range, which comes factory pre-dried.”

New AON3D Hylo 3D printer

AON3D has also launched the Hylo FDM 3D printer. 

The AON3D Hylo 3D printer has a spacious 25.6 x 17.7 x 17.7 in. build area, a 250°C chamber temperature, and an impressive throughput over eight times the norm. Despite the printer’s large stature, Tiltins pointed out that it “still fits through a standard 32-inch door.”

The new 3D printer claims print speeds of “up to 500 mm/s” and is equipped with IDEX-enabled duplication/support modes. What sets it apart is its ‘smart’ technology: featuring over 25 integrated sensors, Hylo ensures unparalleled accuracy by “continually monitoring, controlling, and compensating for process variability,” ensuring top-quality prints in open-market materials.

Discussing the new hardware’s philosophy, Tiltins drew on the concept of hylomorphism from Aristotle, explaining its relevance to AON3D’s approach: “Aristotle had this theory of hylomorphism, that matter has unlimited potential; form gives it purpose.” 

A pivotal development lies in the printer’s ability to heat rapidly. Tiltins remarked on its efficiency, “For most engineering grade materials, 15 to 20 minutes, and you’re ready to go. On the upper end, going from 20 Celsius to 250 C, you’re looking at just under an hour,” representing a significant time reduction compared to other industry offerings. Furthermore, he indicated that the “build rate in the extruders is up to over 100 millimeters cubed per second per extruder, which is huge.” 

Tiltins also touched upon the machine’s thermal and structural innovation, stating that it “lets you go from cold to max temperature in less than an hour” and enables the printer to heat “only the area that needs to be printed.” Highlighting the chamber heater’s importance, Tiltins said, “It’s creating a vortex of air. And we have a lot of overhead room on those chamber fans.” This design aspect has ramifications for maintaining an isothermal chamber, which is crucial for layer cooling. He elaborated, “You can control going from melt to chamber temperature, right? There’s huge implications there.”

A noteworthy addition is the inclusion of “linear encoders on all axes, cheaper cameras” now as a standard feature, deviating from their previous optional status.

This 3D printer showcases a tighter process control, aiming for “a one-degree variance.” The robustness of the machine is further evidenced by its “dual redundant sensors,” ensuring stability and reliability.

Concluding his detailed breakdown, Tiltins shared a success story regarding a large ULTEM 9085 part that had presented challenges to other 3D printing systems.

AON3D Improves 3D Printing with Advanced Chamber Heating and Automated Features

The new printer model boasts user-friendly features like built-in charcoal and HEPA filters that require replacements only twice a year. It also introduces more automated capabilities, such as self-calibration across all axes. Touching upon the automation specifics, Tiltins remarked, “Every time the nozzle is going to purge and wipe, we are measuring the exact centerline position of that nozzle.” This automatic method, he claims, offers “twice the accuracy of the old manual calibration process.”

Tiltins further emphasized advancements in the extruder design, mentioning, “We’re almost double the melt length now on the new extruder.” These extruders come with easily swappable nozzles, now standardized with tungsten carbide. The printer also integrates redundant temperature sensors, addressing specific client needs and enhancing the printer’s reliability. He noted the addition of “redundant RTDs, so this helps you diagnose if there is some sort of temperature sensor error.”

A significant feature is the inclusion of independent, active-leveling extruders, allowing for minute adjustments. This adjustment capability is vital for maintaining exact distances to the bed and ensuring consistent printing quality.

Lastly, focusing on the filament treatment, Tiltins highlighted a common oversight in the industry: “You can’t just say it’s a heated filament enclosure; the proper way to achieve dried filament over the life of the print is through regenerative desiccant drying, and a minus 25 C dew point.” This process ensures the filament remains impeccably dry, optimizing print quality.

AON3D Introduces Advanced Sensory Capabilities in 3D Printing

The AON3D VP highlighted the printer’s superior sensory functionalities and implications for part quality and consistency.

Detailing the technological leap, Tiltins said, “We have more than 25 integrated sensors now,” ranging from motion execution to filament feed rate diameter and material storage temperature. These sensors enhance the accuracy and reliability of the printing process. Emphasizing the printer’s unique feature, Tiltins shared, “What you’re looking at here is essentially an inferred pressure from toolhead force,” a metric which, he claims, is not observed in other machines in the industry. Such a measurement helps identify filament diameter inconsistencies and the resultant backpressure, which could lead to part defects.

I asked about the Hylo’s competitive edge, and Tiltins confidently responded, “I believe we’re leading the charge here. On sensor count, on price versus thermals and throughput.” 

Another standout feature is the printer’s ability to provide a workspace for users to measure “as printed results.” Tiltins emphasized, “The other new interesting aspect is that all those data streams and sensors that we mentioned [are] giving users a default, nice workspace.” He sees this as a significant step forward, offering the possibility to move away from traditional and sometimes misleading coupons and, instead, using data streams to make more informed part qualification decisions. 

AON3D Gears Up to Lead 3D Printing 

With hardware capabilities no longer the primary obstacle in the industry, Tiltins believes that the crux now lies in identifying unique applications for high-performance polymers.

“The hardware is no longer the limitation,” stated Tiltins, underlining that technological advancements have made massive strides. But he cautioned that printers aren’t likely to see a 100x speed increase, explaining, “printers are reaching speeds where no one’s going to build a 100x faster printer.” Instead, the focus should be on key applications that suit high-performance polymers. These polymers, he suggests, are best suited for “low volume, high-value applications where additive manufacturing (AM) is a great fit.”

Tiltins hinted at the aerospace, defense, and energy sectors as prime candidates to benefit from AON3D’s technology, especially in energy, where materials like PEEK have found favor due to their robust chemical resistance. The “mobility market,” encompassing sectors from prosthetics and orthotics to rail and aerospace, is also a prime target for AON3D.

But who’s been testing these innovations? On being probed about AON3D’s beta testers, Tiltins remained tight-lipped, hinting only at some “alpha machines” with clients under non-disclosure agreements (NDAs). However, he revealed that AON3D’s new Hylo 3D printer is set to ship in January.

Regarding their primary customer base, Tiltins shared, “By providing a streamlined user experience for new users while also providing tools for experts, we expect to continue the trend of having an extremely varied customer base in terms of industry verticals and applications.” He expressed optimism about the printer’s potential for adoption in service bureaus, citing the machine’s ability to produce quality parts quickly and efficiently as a game-changer for the sector.

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