What Does Artificial Intelligence Think of 3D Printing?
There’s an ever-increasing drive to make machines start, both in industrial equipment and consumer electronics. It’s no wonder, then, that artificial intelligence is one of the emerging 3D printing trends as well. Artificial intelligence, or AI, can resolve many issues …
There’s an ever-increasing drive to make machines start, both in industrial equipment and consumer electronics. It’s no wonder, then, that artificial intelligence is one of the emerging 3D printing trends as well.
Artificial intelligence, or AI, can resolve many issues additive manufacturing currently faces. Smart printers and computer software can eliminate human errors, make 3D printing faster, and even unlock all new materials and applications.
Let’s explore what AI is and what it has to offer to your 3D printing business.
What Is Artificial Intelligence?
AI keeps popping up as a tech buzzword in a great variety of contexts and publications. But many of us might still be wondering what AI ultimately is.
Artificial intelligence isn’t a single, easily identifiable piece of technology. It’s an umbrella term that covers an enormous range of processes and technologies related to automation, machine learning, neural networks, and machine perception — such as receiving visual input through cameras.
But the end goal of most (if not all) AI processes is to create a machine that’s able to learn on its own. An artificially intelligent machine can analyse data and its own past experiences of completing tasks to improve and optimize its work processes. In other words, it’s capable of learning.
Some AI experts state that the ultimate conclusion of AI development would be a machine that thinks and learns like a human being. Whether that’s something we can or should achieve is a larger question we won’t get into here. The thing that matters most for additive manufacturers is that AI-capable 3D printers and software can learn to resolve problems by themselves.
How Can AI Help Additive Manufacturing?
But what does AI have to offer to 3D printer users? The technology’s main advantage is that it can mitigate or even eliminate the limitations of human thinking and behaviour when it comes to operating 3D printers.
Currently, businesses using 3D printers struggle to make the most out of additive manufacturing’s potential. Print preparation, printer operation, and other similar processes can be challenging, depending on the part, printer, and software. This leaves the process open to human error, which can lead to poor workflows and failed prints.
AI can help businesses resolve these human-related problems. The advantages AI can bring to your business include:
3D printing is much more complex than just sending a CAD file to the printer and pressing the start button. Especially when you get into commercial printing, the 3D printing workflow can get extremely complex. You must consider such things as printer uptime, calculating and sending quotes, and choosing the right material and printing technology for a given part.
AI can crunch data and do complex calculations much faster than humans. Although it’s not yet possible to completely automate the 3D printing workflow, AI can make parts of the process significantly faster. For example, you could use AI-capable software to automatically determine printer and material availability, calculate a quote, and send it to a customer.
Better Defect Detection
Without exhaustive print preparation and constant monitoring, every print job has a chance of failure. Sometimes, even the most stringent preparation process isn’t enough — we’re human, after all, and can make mistakes. AI, however, will never tire of watching over your prints.
AI-equipped print preparation software can leverage data from thousands of previous print runs all over the world to identify possible flaws and mistakes in models or printer settings. Additionally, some AI solutions can use cameras to monitor a 3D printer’s chamber. As soon as they notice a print error, they can pause the machine and send a notification to the operator, saving time and printing material.
Creating new materials for 3D printing is a time-consuming and complex process — particularly when it comes to composite materials. Finding the right mix of constituent materials and combining them in a ratio that gives the material optimal properties is a delicate process. So far, this has mostly been done through trial and error.
AI can process large amounts of data at once to discover ideal material combinations and ratios. As a result, manufacturers can get new materials to the market faster while saving money in the design process.
Faster Part Optimisation
One of additive manufacturing’s greatest advantages is its ability to create geometries that are impossible for traditional manufacturing tools. But this also adds a new layer of complexity to the manufacturing process. Discovering geometries that give parts ideal properties with the least amount of material is difficult and costly.
Companies like SolidWorks are introducing AI-driven simulation and analysis features to their design software. These programs can run through hundreds of simulations and design iterations in a matter of hours to help businesses speed up their design pipeline.
Streamlined 3D Printing Process
Last but not least, AI can help make the 3D printing process itself faster and smoother. For example, businesses can use AI-powered software to analyse part CAD files to discover how they should be 3D printed for optimal results.
The more parts these software solutions process, the better they become at it. AI has the potential to make a significant positive impact on your business’ productivity.
Applications for AI in 3D Printing
AI has much to offer to every kind of manufacturing business, regardless of size and industry. If you use 3D printers at your operation, you stand to benefit from the time and cost savings that AI can provide.
Some applications that have already realized the advantages of AI include:
- Aerospace: Weight is an aeroplane’s worst enemy — every additional pound increases fuel costs exponentially. Aerospace manufacturers and party suppliers — like 3D Systems — use AI-powered design software to run simulations that allow them to reduce part weight to a minimum while retaining its structural characteristics.
- Automotive: Like aeroplanes, cars and motorcycles consume less fuel when they’re more aerodynamic. But running wind tunnel tests for several design iterations of one part can cost astronomical sums of money. AI simulation software lets automotive part producers do virtual aerodynamics tests before printing any physical parts.
- Consumer goods: Whether you’re printing cases for electronic devices or miniature models, failed prints are unwelcome and possibly expensive surprises. Consumer goods manufacturers use AI to optimise printer paths and detect errors before a print fails completely.
- Medical: Additive manufacturing is becoming increasingly popular in medical and dental applications. These fields depend on special materials, such as biocompatible resins. With AI, doctors and manufacturers can work together more easily to develop innovative materials that benefit patients.
Make Your 3D Printers Intelligent
Although AI offers incredible benefits to additive manufacturing, it does have its shortcomings. No matter how smart an AI is, it doesn’t actually “think.” It simply does an immense number of calculations until it believes it has reached an optimal solution.
As such, human oversight is still always a necessity — at least until we invent a genuine virtual consciousness. Until that science fiction scenario becomes reality, you should not rely entirely on AI.
That said, AI is still in its infancy. It’s clear that this technology will only become more and more important for additive manufacturing in the coming years. As AI algorithms and processes get more advanced, 3D printer operators can get even greater benefits from their increasingly intelligent machines.