The Next Generation of AM Software Will Be Generative

Autodesk’s Amar Hanspal looks at additive manufacturing and the future of making things.


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“It's no wonder that additive manufacturing is moving front and center now to the conversation as to how products should be made,” says Amar Hanspal, senior vice president of products at Autodesk. In the keynote speech at the 2016 Additive Manufacturing Conference, Hanspal noted that AM is well-suited to producing products (often in conjunction with traditional technologies) that meet customer demands for personalization, performance and sustainability.

However, success with additive manufacturing is not guaranteed. Failure rates remain high, and can result in wasted time and expensive materials. Support failures, cracks and deformation are just a few of the problems that can arise in taking a “print and see” approach to additive manufacturing. This, Hanspal says, is where software comes in.

The current challenge AM faces with software is twofold: a lack of simulation capability, and too many different software products overall. Without dependable simulation models, failures are unavoidable. And relying on separate software programs for design, optimization, validation and build preparation creates silos out of each step and makes it difficult to move a part from one stage to the next. Incorporating CNC machining or other processes for hybrid manufacturing further complicates the process.

The next generation of software for additive manufacturing will not distinguish between the means of making and design, Hanspal says. Instead of addressing each step individually, it will take into account design requirements alongside the manufacturing method, and be able to compensate for intricacies automatically. This generative design software would enable a user to begin with a part’s attributes, such as load constraints and weight requirements, instead of its shape, and suggest design options that will meet those requirements. Autodesk is currently exploring these possibilities through its Project Dreamcatcher initiative.

Design and engineering with software like this will be informed by additive manufacturing from the beginning, making success far more likely on the first try. Indeed, Hanspal envisions a time when 3D printing works much like desktop printing, offering “what you see is what you build” (WYSIWYB) design in the same way that word processors enable “what you see is what you get” (WYSIWYG) text editing.

“It's not something we expect tomorrow,” says Hanspal. “It's still in its early stages, but it holds a huge amount of promise.”