Mar 31, 2017 | By Julia

These days, mass customization or individualized mass production, as it’s also known, seems to be everywhere. Defined as the use of flexible computer-aided manufacturing systems to produce customized output, “mass customization” is more than just a buzzword: it’s a forward-looking way to combine the low costs of mass production with the flexibility of individual customization, effectively killing two birds with one stone in manufacturing. It’s also the leading mentality driving the current surge in 3D printing.

There’s still some important kinks to be worked out, however. One of the largest hurdles currently seen in implementing mass customization is the lack of adequate testing. Without standardized methods for suitably testing whether individual designs are actually feasible, many otherwise successful designs simply don’t make it to market.

But that may all be about to change. This week, German research group The Fraunhofer Society announced the launch of a new simulation software that will help test computer-assisted designs, catch flaws, and guide the user toward potential solutions.

“How to quickly determine whether an individual design can be implemented is frequently an unresolved problem in [the] industry today,” said Christian Altenhofen of Fraunhofer’s Interactive Engineering Technologies department.

“In most cases, CAD data only describes the outer surface and does not contain the volumetric information required for simulations. Generating these afterwards is highly prone to errors, usually requires manual reworking and costs the industry a lot of money."

Alternatively, the new Fraunhofer software promises to create a smooth transition from design to simulation. Launching at the Hannover Messe conference in April, the software enables customers and manufacturers alike to automatically generate the required simulation themselves. Fraunhofer representatives say this will easily determine whether a proposed CAD design can be implemented in reality. If the design doesn’t pass the test, so to speak, the software suggests tailored improvements.

The applications in 3D printing are numerous, Altenhofen noted. "Additive manufacturing is a powerful example of how our technology can be applied,” he said. “In principle, however, our approach is applicable to many different manufacturing processes and different materials."

The key to the new software solution, which was developed by the Fraunhofer Institute for Computer Graphics Research IGD in Darmstadt, is algorithms using the mathematical concept of subdivision volumes. By deriving physically-based simulation models, the software calculates the internal stresses of the model based on boundary conditions like gravity, or forces induced by the object’s weight. Then, depending on the distribution and absolute values of the stresses, it becomes possible to judge whether or not the object in question is stable.

By creating a consistent, virtual model of an object’s inner structure, subdivision volumes offer much more than mere CAD representations, which only describe surfaces of 3D objects, overlooking the interior.

In contrast, the Fraunhofer software “directly includes the volumetric representation together with the surface information that defines the actual design,” says Altenhofen. “This means that customers and manufacturers have access to the necessary information for the simulation during the entire design process.”

For the upcoming Hannover Messe 2017, Fraunhofer researchers will be displaying a prototype of their simulation solution, with the aim of conveying possible applications or possible future developments.

The Fraunhofer team decided to go with something simple yet universal: manufacturing individual plastic holders for espresso cups. Through an interactive user interface, booth visitors will be able to design their own cup holder. If the design doesn’t hold, the user will receive instructions on which parameters need to be changed.

Visitors of the Hannover Messe 2017 will be able to try the prototype from April 24th-28th in Hannover, Germany. Fraunhofer representatives will be stationed in Hall 7, Booth D11.



Posted in 3D Software



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