Chris Fellows is the principal software engineer responsible for oversight of Symbionica work plan
Tell us more about…International TechneGroup!
International TechneGroup Inc. began in 1983 with a mission to help manufacturers drive innovation and time to market by applying computer-aided product development to engineering problems. Since then, the increased use of product development software and engineering systems across the enterprise created complex integration and interoperability obstacles that our clients could not overcome on their own. When product data interoperability issues threaten to impede the progress of these initiatives, you need a partner with proven experience. Today, ITI is the global leader providing reliable interoperability, validation and migration solutions for product data and related systems. ITI’s solutions solve complex interoperability problems, supporting key aspects of MBE and PLM including: data conversion, digital manufacturing, advanced simulation, change management, certification and regulatory compliance, long term archival, technical data packaging, and secure information transfer. ITI helps the world’s leading manufacturers focus on making great products. ITI’s European head office in Cambridge UK, is the centre of excellence for the development, support and application of CADfix – the 3D CAD model translation and geometry preparation software that allows users to import CAD data from different sources and manipulate it to the optimum form for use in diverse downstream engineering applications.
CADfix provides capabilities for CAD geometry processing and model preparation for advanced simulation and digital manufacturing, with a focus on advanced technology and the development of leading edge geometry processing applications to facilitate greater automation and lead time reductions. In addition to providing a rich set of data translation and repair functions, CADfix offers tools specifically designed for improving digital manufacturing processes and product quality. CADfix pre-manufacturing tools include: fast and robust STL generation with extensive user control of the facet quality, highly accurate 2D slice generation, slice analysis, and optimised toolpath generation for each slice with a variable radius capability for different additive and subtractive manufacturing techs. CADfix also provides critical postmanufacturing data analysis to help engineers validate the accuracy and quality of the final 3D printed part. By comparing a point cloud scan of the manufactured part back to the CAD model, CADfix can highlight production issues and guide finishing processes to ensure improved product quality. ITI also works in close partnership with leading manufacturing companies as part of European and UK government project initiatives aimed at researching and developing novel methodologies and technology. Projects include the Innovate UK AuGMENT, GHandI, GEMinIDS and ICE NITE projects, and European CRESCENDO, VIVACE, Hyproline, Symbionica and 4D Hybrid.
Which are the major challenges in building a CAM that is able to drive three processes (DED, ablation and extrusion) in one single machine?
The greatest challenge in our work has been maintaining a system that can adapt to new and changing requirements. The mechanisms and processes being trialled in Symbionica are very much at the cutting edge of research into AM processes and we must develop the CAM software and strategies in parallel with the development of the machine itself. Furthermore, published literature provides limited information on the best CAM strategies for DED and laser ablation. With all that in mind, we approached the development of the software tools expecting to change some of their components later in the project.
This approach required us to work with our partners in the project to identify the significant parameters that describe the shape of the tool path and to devise schemes to allow those parameters to vary independently in a way that remains meaningful to the users. Additionally, to support potential research and development activities, the system has been implemented to allow new tool path styles to be added and intermixed with existing styles relatively easily. As the project progresses we expect to discover cases where our tool path strategies are inadequate and we hope that anticipation of this will let us adapt to these challenges.
Which are the benefits that the Symbionica Co-Engineering Platform can bring to the market?
How does the flow of information works in the software? As additive manufacturing matures, the concept of low cost, personalized products becomes more feasible and this change will force us to update our approach to product lifecycles. The challenge is to retain the design flexibility currently found in short run parts while enabling inventory management, analysis and validation expected of mass-produced parts. The Co-Engineering Platform is a demonstration system intended to explore these concepts in a simplified environment, storing locally the CAD geometry and metadata required to process a part for manufacture in a simple, rapidly deployable package.
Data flow within the platform is centred around constructing and managing design projects that handle the personalization of a prosthetic for a single patient, and build projects that populate a build volume with multiple parts from different design projects. Design projects are initiated by a user selecting a template prosthetic from a library of master parts. The dimensions of the part are updated for the patient in the user’s preferred CAD system and then returned to the platform. The design project then tracks the modified geometry along with additional medical and engineering metadata. The project is exchanged between multiple users, implementing additional analysis and design changes until all involved are prepared for the part to be manufactured. Build projects involve selecting multiple components from one or more design projects and arranging them into a build volume.
Materials of different types can be mixed where compatible, though typically the build volume will contain only material of the same type. Various users collaborate to determine the orientation of parts within the build volume and the parameters that should control the machine’s operation and tool path generation. During this phase, the user may decide that further work is required to prepare some prosthetic and the part will be returned to the Design phase with comments. When manufacturing is complete, comparisons between the as-manufactured part and the asdesigned part might reveal additional details that must be resolved in the design or building phases. The projects, backed by CAD stored in the STEP format are can then become long term archives of the design and manufacturing process in case replacements must be made or further analysis is required.
Which are the most relevant achievements of the Symbionica project relevant for your business? Do you plan to have a new product or to start consultancy/training on AM software?
We view our work on tool path generation and point cloud management to be most relevant to our business interests. The tools developed within the project are integrated into ITI’s CADfix software which includes prototype AM preparation and export features. Our work on versatile tool path generation expands our geometric reasoning and export capabilities for AM. Point cloud manipulation and management, used within Symbionica as part of the online monitoring process, is valuable both within additive use cases and more broadly as point cloud scanning technology becomes more widely used in the validation of parts and as a basis for geometry improvement in upstream CAD data.
Chris Fellows, International TechneGroup