Additive design still needs to hit home in everyone’s minds as well as in company structures

Spider bracket, Altair
Spider bracket, Altair

Altair Engineering GmbH develops a software that guides construction engineers toward an optimal design for additive manufacturing by virtue of numerical methods and artificial intelligence.

By Peter Trechow, VDMA Germany

In this interview, manager Dr. Pietro Cervellara explains where he sees the biggest advantages as well as weaknesses of additive manufacturing.

Could you give us a short introduction to Altair?

Dr. Pietro Cervellera: With pleasure. For more than 30 years, Altair has been active in the area of numerical simulation. Today, we have about 2600 employees in 22 countries. Our expertise lies in our sofware, where the design and construction process happens with numerical methods. In this way, construction engineers can already test during their design and planning phase whether their future part would fulfill requirements, and they can optimize it iteratively by way of simulation. Our software supports this process through methods of artifical intelligence. The computer guides the construction engineer towards an optimal design while taking into account some hundreds of different load cases. As light as possible, as stable as necessary, and with minimal use of materials. We speak of ‘simulation-driven innovation’.

Dr. Pietro Cervellara
Dr. Pietro Cervellara

Which part of the value chain in additive manufacturing do you cover?

Cervellera: In additive manufacturing, construction plays the main role. Thanks to additive construction, we can now realize the most complex geometries – grid structures, bionic designs, integration of ducts into components – and many others. Yet it is so very complex that construction engineers could hardly develop optimal performance intuitively. This is our entry point. Our software supports engineers in exploiting the design scope. In most cases, additive manufacturing only pays out if these scopes are exploited. Its added value lies in construction. But who will tell me where I would need a stabilizing grid structure, an additional strut, or a thicker wall – and where I won’t need it? In this simulation-based design process, I can find the answers.

In your view, what are the most important arguments for additive manufacturing?

Cervellera: Additive technologies allow us to realize components with minimized weight and material input, while these components will take up higher loads and have an improved eigenfrequency and stiffness. Often, it will mean a reduction in assembly and maintenance costs, as former component groups may be produced in one piece. By moving ducts or holding fixtures into the component, cleaning becomes easier, installation space will be lowered, or conformal cooling or heating becomes possible in temperature-sensitive processes. We can also realize spare part supply on demand, and components can be improved at any time even after production has started. In addition, there is no difference in costs whether you print a highly complex bionic component or a simple draft. In case of doubt, the complex draft might be cheaper as material will be cut down. And this list is still a far cry from covering all advantages.

Which part can/should software play in order to exploit the full potential of additive manufacturing?

Cervellera: Like I said, intuitive construction based on established guidelines hits the wall pretty quickly. Simply speaking, components are becoming too complex. Our technologies search numerically for the optimal design and go through an enormous amount of possibilities within seconds. In the automotive industry and aviation, these technologies are the state of the art. And within mechanical engineering, they are gaining more and more acceptance because of rising competition. This is also due to the fact that you do not need any numerical expertise in order to employ our software. Thus, the job of the software is to relieve developers of complexity – and to guide them through an iterative process of optimization. By the way, part of this is optimizing supporting structures for the manufacturing process.

“Additive manufacturing is the production technology we were always dreaming of. Design proposals can be implemented immediately. This creates a symbiosis which can best work through the collaboration of all players of the value chain.”

Where in your part of the process chain do you see potential for optimization?

Cervellera: We are in need of a new way of thinking in general. On the surface, additive manufacturing seems to be a manufacturing revolution. In reality, however, this revolution begins in the method of development. Additive design needs to hit home in the minds of construction engineers as well as in traditional company structures. In terms of software and hardware, the technology is there. Now, we the humans need to learn how to use them optimally.

In regard to Industry 4.0, how could a consistent datahandling be guaranteed, one that covers draft, simulation, and construction up to the manufacturing process, postprocessing, and quality control?

Cervellera: We are currently in talks with machine manufacturers in order to attune interfaces. It will be very important to create full compatibility between different software products and systems along the whole process chain, as understood by users. As software producers, our role is not to deliver interface standards. This is a job for machine manufacturers. Then we would immediately update our products so as to match it. That’s not really complicated.

What were your goals and interests in joining the Additive Manufacturing Association?

Cervellera: Additive manufacturing is the production technology we were always dreaming of. Design proposals can be implemented immediately. This creates a symbiosis which can best work through the collaboration of all players of the value chain. We would like to contribute our expertise, and to get to know the perspectives of users and mechanical engineers. The Association offers the ideal platform to do that.