As provided by theAutomation, additive manufacturing and the factory of the futurereport from SmarTech Analysis, the common thread of digital manufacturing is beginning to come together, connecting different parts of the workflow. The latest development in this trend is the release of the new CONNECT3D software from PostProcess Technologies. In addition to providing users with greater understanding and control of their finishing equipment, the platform aims to make business post-processing systems open to ancillary software and hardware tools within an ecosystem Manufacturing.
PostProcess offers a number of smart technologies for finishing 3D printed parts. This includes hardware systems for support removal, resin removal, and surface polishing, as well as the chemicals needed to perform these processes. It has also developed software, dubbed AUTOMAT3D, which performs the above procedures in an optimized manner. CONNECT3D is the next step in the company’s portfolio as it helps manage this workflow and more.
CONNECT3D is software that creates post-processing chemical recipes and finishing times based on the part itself. In addition to this intelligent part processing capability, the software can be used to remotely control PostProcess equipment. Jobs can be planned and scheduled, with remote monitoring and administrative management allowing users to track jobs from anywhere. It is also possible to receive SMS or email notifications, including alerts and alarms, as well as access historical data. For enterprises, this can be extended to include role-based user administration, license management, and integrated security.
The basic elements of the software make it easier for users to control a growing fleet of PostProcess machines. The real potential, however, lies in the ability to connect to third-party equipment and apps. With an open architecture, CONNECT3D is designed to work with factory automation systems and third-party software to link these different tools to its own post-processing technology.
As the PostProcess ecosystem grows, with customers developing solutions, the company’s technology should be more easily integrated into real production environments. We can imagine service bureaus or parts manufacturers with fleets of machines incorporating their finishing equipment into existing manufacturing execution systems (MES) software, print management software and CAD applications. CONNECT3D could also enable industrial robotics to move parts from printers to post-processing machines.
“With the introduction of the CONNECT3D platform, PostProcess uses data analytics and machine learning to improve the performance of its end-to-end solutions.” wrote Tugce Uslu, an analyst in the Lux Research profile for PostProcess. “PostProcess recognizes the need to unify print and post-print processes into an end-to-end solution. Its software is one of the company’s key differentiators as it focuses on end-to-end process optimization using AI. This positions PostProcess as one of the leaders in automated post-processing technology.
“Our CONNECT3D additive manufacturing platform paves the way for the next stage of functional industry advancement in additive manufacturing,” said Rich Caplow, vice president of product at PostProcess. “Today in additive manufacturing, data is captured and connected in the design and print phases, but the digital thread of a 3D part is cut before its final finishing step. CONNECT3D connects the finishing, or post-printing, to the digital thread of the part to unify the entire workflow.
The new platform comes naturally from a desire by industrial 3D printing users for smarter, more integrated solutions. So we can assume that some of PostProcess’s biggest customers most likely drove this development so they could use the company’s finishing equipment in their own operations. Or we can consider that the industry as a whole is moving in this direction.
After all, Sigma Labs and AMFG have just teamed up to connect Sigma’s quality control platform to AMFG’s MES tools. AMT, another manufacturer of post-processing equipment, is working with Mitsubishi Electric on the use of robotic arms for transporting parts. This is just the beginning, as we are sure to see companies like PrintParts and AM-Flow linking their unique technologies to elements of the wider factory environment.
All of these individual pieces are important. For example, post-processing equipment is critical to getting parts from the printer and to the customer. However, the unifying factor in all of the examples above is actually the software. If CONNECT3D will allow PostProcess to be integrated into production operations, the real fiber of the digital thread is the MES software. It is the tool that really connects the different aspects of 3D printing operations with each other and with the workshop. It’s no wonder, then, that of the very few MES developers that exist, nearly half have been acquired.
CONNECT3D is now available as an annual subscription service. To learn more, visit the PostProcess booth, P25, at the Additive Manufacturing Users Group (AMUG) conference in Chicago, Illinois, April 3-7. There, the software will be available for live demonstration.
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