Christine Furstoss is the CTO of GE Additive. In that role, she is responsible for their products; her role is to make sure they fully meet their customers’ needs both from a quality viewpoint and from a performance viewpoint. Furthermore, she has to look at what they need to improve so that GE Additive continues to have the best products on the market and she has to help industries to adopt additive manufacturing (AM).
During an interview with 3D Adept Media at Formnext, Christine F. explained that areas for improvements in terms of quality and performance of a part necessarily involve software.
Indeed, at Formnext, the provider of services and manufacturer of AM systems demonstrated its new digital workflow software solution. In the long run (by May 2019), the company will offer a suite of secure build preparation services to its customers.
It goes without saying that this new offering meets an existing demand. Today, there is an array of build preparation tools, technologies, interfaces and licenses, which results in a certain complexity for design engineers in the way they work during the CAD design to the print process. How does this complexity consist in? What are the challenges and limitations engineers encountered while using a software? In what ways a software can simplify a printing process?
Christine Furstoss answers these questions in this interview.
What makes GE Additive so special?
What’s wonderful about GE Additive is that we have knowledge to help our customers to come up with a full solution. We have engineering consulting, we have launched a tremendous number of products that have been produced additively, so we understand how to think “additive”, how to design…we understand the materials that we used in the additive process, what kind of quality we can give to the final product, what kind of performance a product requires, and finally we manufacture the machines.
As far as our machines are concerned, it should be noted that laser and electronics consolidate the metal powder. Both of them have strengths and allow our customers to choose the right material, the right design and the right machine.
At Formnext, one of our objectives was to highlight the advancements we have made with the software and to show our customers how to make their design most suitable for additive manufacturing, and how to transform their ideas from design to the finished product.
You talked about the advantages of laser and electronics in the choice of material, design and machine. What about the limitations?
GE Additive’s goal is to ensure that customers always get their parts manufactured with the desired functionalities, even though these functionalities integrate a certain rigidity, even though they are manufactured from a certain angle, etc. and in order to integrate all these features, the engineer necessarily has to master the software.
How can the customers design for this specific part? How can they know what’s going to happen before they print and change their design accordingly? The first limitation therefore, consists in saving time by predicting which parts will deform during the build process while reducing the need for trial and error iterations. We achieve this in our software through a feature called “distortion compensation“.
An important part of limitation today is that the process is still not fully industrialized. There is a lot of operators’ interventions needed and we want to make it easier for customers. So, we are moving towards automation, and this includes linking together all the processes, the way we fill materials, and the way we remove parts: it is the “digital threat”. We are collecting data to do all of that and our software will help our customers, through that journey, so that they have confidence that their parts meet all their objectives.
There is also a lack of interoperability due to different interfaces, file types and user experiences which can result in costly mistakes and delays for the design engineering community and machine operators.
Interoperability seems to be a bigger issue for engineers. Why?
First of all, some designers might understand here the way design engineers work together on both additive parts and non-additive parts whereas for others, the concept consists in ensuring their parts meet all the requirements of the whole additive process.
In the latter case, interoperability remains an important issue because it is all about understanding the limitations of a machine and how to overcome them. Each machine is unique and has its own limitations: different lasers, different electron beams… There is so much knowledge that designers need to know to design the part in the right way, hence the importance of an appropriate software solution.
The designers use certain pieces of software, CAD software to design their parts. Today, you have to take that design and decide: “how do I now tell the machine to print it”. You have to go through the build preparation (tell the machine to print a specific part first, at this speed…etc.). You have to understand the limitations that you will have on a machine. Every machine has its own limitations: different lasers, different electron beams…There are so many pieces of knowledge that you need to know to be able to get the part designed the right way. That’s why our software journey is so important, especially for SMEs that do not always have an engineering department to overcome these barriers.
GE Additive’s software strategy centers on simplifying the additive process and enabling an interoperable workflow. Its vision is to create a common experience through a secure, intuitive tool that reduces design iterations and speeds up the time to print a good part, according to the design intent.
Top 3 objectives of 2019 for GE Additive in this software journey
Take the software from design to build and fully commercialize it. Today at Formnext, we are introducing this software and we will be working with a select number of customers to make sure it meets their needs. We will take into account their feedback prior to the official date of commercialization
To create a platform for digital thread through the whole process. This consists in helping customers understand and trace what happened to their part after it comes out of the machine;
To integrate more about our materials knowledge into the build preparation. We continue every day to measure more materials, get more properties, understand if the laser runs fast, understand the properties one gets when it runs slow, if the electron beam designs a highest power …
Your last word?
I am in this industry because I believe in it. I am passionate about what we can do to make new types of products that are so important to solve healthcare issues, renewable energy and to address other challenges…. We have to learn together. It’s not perfect yet, we are still at a mature stage, and I want our customers to know that “we want to be in this together”.