With a 25-year history in 3D printing innovation, Materialise is a company that focuses on the bigger picture of additive manufacturing. “Solutions provider” may be a term used liberally across the industry but for Materialise, that’s exactly what they are, a provider of solutions for this dynamic, often complex and rapidly growing technology.
One of those key advances is Streamics, a central additive manufacturing automation and control system that connects people, machines, processes and materials to enable users to streamline their entire additive manufacturing business.
“Streamics has two components, one that we call the Robot and one that we call the Control System,” explained Dave Flynn, Senior Business Development Manager, Materialise. “The Robot is the automation engine for automating tasks on 3D part files such as extracting part properties like surface area, volume and also images for previews. That functionality can be used in a standalone way driven by clients on the desktop or it can also be integrated with external applications.”
The Streamics Robot also forms the automation basis for the Control System, a platform which takes a product from quote, to order, to build planning by access to the filtering and grouping of parts via type, process, material and then scheduling onto individual machines.
“The Control System is a database application, based on a single server that allows you to basically manage all of the information associated with the typical workflow of additive manufacturing,” Dave elaborated. “The idea is you start out with a request from a customer with some electronic part files and follow all the way through to a physical part that’s ready to ship. There’s a lot of information in between those two points and the Streamics Control System is really designed to manage all of that information and provide traceability and a database that can then be used for reporting and analysis.”
Streamics software designed to streamline the additive manufacturing workflow.
Having spent the majority of his career in the service bureau industry, Dave understands just how crucial software like this can be for maintaining a steady workflow. Recalling how most bureaux traditionally manage their data in a number of home-grown ways from speadsheets to individual databases, Dave says a structured way of handling all of this complex information can really assist users in dealing with a variety of applications.
“Typically a shop is dealing with input from multiple users, often different types of CAD format, certainly parts from a variety of applications,” Dave explained. “It could be from civil to really complex or tiny parts and that’s really a challenge. It’s actually the fun part of being a service bureau and managing a variety of applications.”
“We had a workflow that worked but when the initial version of Streamics became available we looked at it and said ‘that’s exactly what we’ve been trying to do all along here so we jumped right on it’.”
Process management software, isn’t the only area Materialise is exercising its expertise. Build processors have been a major part of Materialise’s portfolio over the last 12 months with leading engineering companies such as EOS, SLM Solutions and most recently Renishaw benefiting from this tailored software.
“Given the state of the industry’s maturity on a machine level, the machines themselves and the machine vendors tend to be islands,” Dave surmised. “There aren’t a large number of standards in the industry that people adhere to. There are not yet products that are common to many of the systems - they’re all doing the same thing but they’re all doing it differently.”
Materialise has developed a range of build processors for companies like Renishaw, SLM Solutions and EOS.
Dave continued: “We’ve formed partnerships with the machine manufacturers so that we can do two very important things. One is create the files that are necessary to go right on to the machine and build parts straight away out of Streamics and also monitor the process while its building. If you think about a laser printer, if that printer is out of paper, it will tell you that you’ll get a notification. You can look at a print queue and see which documents are lined up. It’s a similar idea for the build processors in terms of monitoring and logging information; we can read values from the machines and report that information in real time to the user. We can also record that information, log it in the database at the end of the builds, we can retrieve build logs and store that information. This idea of having a close link with the machines themselves and automating the build preparation and adding real time monitoring and logging of the information is very important, it’s a critical step in enabling manufacturing applications.”
More recently, the company turned its attention to the desktop market, adopting partnerships with both FELIX Robotics and Leapfrog to develop similar technology to an entirely new and much more consumer focused market.
“The technologies that form the basis of our existing product line are very broad in scope and applicable to the machines that sit on your desk in addition to the ones that have to sit on a manufacturing floor,” Dave explained. “There’s a great deal of commonality between those systems and we think that our tools which are very mature and have been implemented and tested over many years can bring a lot of value to an area of our industry that’s relatively new.”
The Materialise build processors have been designed to simplify the 3D printing process whilst working towards a more standardised communication system for both software and hardware. Taking the leap into the desktop world and forming strong partnerships with industrial AM manufacturers, Materialise is staying true to its mission to add value to the 3D printing ecosystem.
Dave concludes: “Seeing how additive manufacturing is being adopted as a legitimate technique and being involved in the software that enables the process to function in that type of environment is exciting. I started out beta testing the SLA 1 back in 1988 and its really gratifying to see how far this has all come. There were points along the way were people doubted the value of additive manufacturing but at this point its very clear it has strong value and a very promising future.”