From Slicers to Performance Simulators: Evolution of Industrial 3D Printing Software
Slicing software has been around since the very beginning of 3D printing, with digital slicing of STL files being one of the key features of Chuck Hull’s first stereolithography system. However, in the time since, slicing software has evolved beyond its base functions of simply converting 3D object models into machine instructions.
Today, enterprise-scale software platforms like Eiger not only provide slicing— they serve as an organization’s digital hub for additive manufacturing activities such as managing printer fleets, digital inventories of parts, and accessing usage analytics.
Also, new 3D printing software tools now exist to further streamline and automate additive manufacturing operations, which can save organizations large amounts of time and money while making life easier.
Curious to learn about today’s available 3D printing software? Read this article for an introduction.
Slicing software: more than just print settings
A slicing program transforms a digital model into a set of instructions that the 3D printer can use to produce a tangible part. It takes a 3D model, ‘slices’ it into the many distinct horizontal layers that together comprise a 3D-printed part, while customizing print settings and generating toolpaths — converting all of this information into machine-readable instructions for the printer to follow. Slicers allow users to define key parameters for each print — such as print orientations, layer heights, support structures, print speeds, infill densities, continuous fiber reinforcement, and other settings.
Certain modern slicing software programs, such as Eiger, also serve as an organization’s digital hub for managing nearly all 3D printing activities. Along with base slicing functions, cloud-based applications like Eiger have features for managing part files, multiple printers, simultaneous print jobs, and users within an organization (through role-based access control), as well as tracking performance and usage analytics.
With many global manufacturers using 3D printing for core operations, Markforged designed Eiger software to be a simple means for managing print jobs across printers in different geographic locations — making this also a powerful supply chain tool for fast, on-demand procurement of parts. Storing parts in the cloud as digital inventories also allows manufacturers to avoid allocating valuable space for physical inventories of spare parts.
API integrations: automate workflows between 3D printing, factory systems
Through API integrations, different factory systems (like ERP or MES systems) can speak to each other, syncing data. Integration offers a number of benefits. Successful integrations, through automating processes and information transfer, ultimately save time, reduce errors, and reduce delays that take place between actions.
Through an API integration, slicing software like Eiger can be integrated with other factory systems, automating additive-related workflows at other digital manufacturing touchpoints. Other important business systems can automatically receive details from the slicer around their parts, builds, print jobs, and printers. For example, a slicer can automatically prompt an asset management system to track each printed part — or automatically prompt a Digital Kanban Inventory system to initiate a print when inventory falls beneath a defined threshold.
Through API integrations, slicers can connect with many different factory systems: a Manufacturing Execution System (MES), Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) system, or Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system, QMS, CRM, AM/EAM, SCM, financials, accounting systems, and more.
Simulating part performance: determining strength and stiffness before hitting ‘print’
For many 3D printed parts — from tooling built for factory floors, to composite steering wheels guiding drag racing vehicles that reach speeds of 275+ mph — high strength and stiffness are absolutely crucial. Furthermore, as many organizations operate on development and production cycles with limited time, it’s valuable to know that your part meets its performance requirements without having to print and break the design many times.
3D printing simulation software allows organizations to virtually test part strength and stiffness, where users can validate how their part will perform before they print it. Simulation software dramatically reduces the need for print-break test cycles, which typically consume significant amounts of time and material. 3D printing simulation software can also optimize prints to reduce material costs and/or print times, while still meeting defined performance requirements.
Simulation software works by using information about strength and stiffness requirements, the use case, and the part itself. After the user specifies and inputs the necessary testing criteria and performance factors, the software runs its simulation to determine if the part passes or fails the virtual performance test.
In-process quality inspection
Given the requisite hardware and software, certain 3D printers can scan parts for quality assurance inspection during the printing process. Once printing is finished, the inspection software automatically generates a report that shows you if your part is within spec via clear pass/fail analysis.
3D printing inspection software works by using an onboard laser micrometer and a scanning process. It generates a laser inspection toolpath at slicing time for your part and build settings. When the part begins printing, the software automates the collection, upload, and registration of measurement data to help users ascertain if each part printed is within the acceptable tolerance.
Ultimately, automated inspection of parts boosts manufacturing productivity by reducing manpower and time required for manual quality assurance.
Is 3D printing software secure?
A single cybersecurity breach can be incredibly costly for any business hit. With organizations now storing sensitive data in the cloud, information security has topical importance in industrial 3D printing — after all, when storing proprietary parts in the cloud as digital inventory, manufacturers need to protect their intellectual property.
The Digital Forge, including Eiger software, is the first additive manufacturing platform to attain ISO/IEC 27001 certification, meeting rigorous international standards for data management and information security.
Markforged 3D printing software uses SAML SSO (single sign-on) and TLS (transport layer security) certificates. SAML SSO provides a simplified authentication process across enterprise applications with the benefit of improved security. As only one set of credentials is needed per user, user credentials for the organization do not need to be stored in any system. TLS certificates ensure critical information passed from web applications is securely encrypted — to prevent unwanted modifications, loss, or theft of important data.
RBAC (role-based access control) in Markforged 3D printing software offers additional benefits for data management and information security. Ensuring employees only have access to the information they need improves confidentiality, privacy, and compliance. RBAC protects sensitive data from unwanted access, modification, leaks, or deletion — while also simplifying organizational user management processes.
3D printing software has evolved substantially. What’s next?
3D printing software has come a long way since back when it was introduced to serve a single purpose.
Today, innovative slicing applications like Eiger have expanded how 3D printing software can create value for manufacturers beyond just the domain of slicing, evolving into a new industry benchmark: enterprise-grade control centers for additive manufacturing operations. This modern 3D printing software has created new ways for 3D printers to manage inventory, solve supply chain problems, and easily manage all 3D printing operations.
As more manufacturers digitally transform to make operations leaner and more efficient, the role of industrial 3D printing continues to grow. Today’s cutting edge software tools — such as performance simulation, slicing APIs, and in-process inspection — continue to make industrial 3D printing an even faster, more efficient, and more automated solution for solving the biggest challenges in manufacturing.
Learn more about industrial 3D printing software
Interested in learning how Markforged 3D printing software can help your organization meet new efficiency goals?
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