Discover the New Markforged Blacksmith AI Software

In the previous article, we pointed out the value of adapting inspection processes to the digital manufacturing era. We even mentioned the trend of integrating robotics into the 3D scanning operations for closed-loop automation on quality control processes. And now, …

Alejandro Auerbach

March 31, 2021

In the previous article, we pointed out the value of adapting inspection processes to the digital manufacturing era. We even mentioned the trend of integrating robotics into the 3D scanning operations for closed-loop automation on quality control processes. And now, speak of the devil! Markforged just announced groundbreaking news in regards to digital inspection with a new solution to reinvent manufacturing: The Blacksmith AI software.

Now available for X7 models, Blacksmith is an adaptive manufacturing platform that connects part design, production, and inspection with a powerful AI. With this pioneering step, Markforged, as a company, envisions additive manufacturing’s true potential, given the state of supply chain disruptions. Now, before digging further into what Blacksmith is, let’s get into some context on quality control as a crucial part of the fabrication process along with the core aspects of adaptive manufacturing.

The Importance of Quality Control

According to ISO 9000, quality control is “A part of quality management focused on fulfilling quality requirements”. It has its origins in the 1920s, a time when an increase in compliance regulations, tolerance requirements and competitivity drove manufacturers for ways to optimise verification processes and repeatability. In today’s industry, inspection processes comprise significant investments and lead times in design, implementation and execution. 

So, by what means we do it? Well, analogical precision instruments like callipers, micrometres, gauge blocks and kits and fixtures have been commonplace usage for many decades. Though, current 3D scanning yields faster and better results throughout integrated digital workflows. One example of these inspection processes is by analysing deviation maps built from overlapping scanned data versus the nominal CAD model.

What is Adaptive Manufacturing and How is It Revolutionising the Industry?

As we face exponential growth in technology, digitisation and accelerating volatility in the global market’s dynamics, supply chains become progressively complex and competition between companies fiercer. Adding further disruptions into the mix, such as the unexpected COVID-19 crisis, resource scarcity, and climate change, manufacturers must quickly adapt to new challenges to survive and thrive. What can we do to deal with ever-changing requirements efficiently? The answer seems to be adaptive manufacturing (Not to confuse with additive manufacturing). To better understand the implications of adaptive manufacturing, we’re going to delve into three core characteristics: Data-driven, integrated, and smart.

Adaptive Manufacturing is Data-Driven

First of all, think about how our daily life has drastically changed in just a few years. We all tend to take for granted established activities like e-mailing, internet browsing, social media, e-commerce, online banking, etc. However, few take the time to think about how data itself has become a valuable asset.

A robust data collection, storage and management make the difference in efficiency for any endeavour, and manufacturing is not the exception. So, how do we collect data? Manufacturers can invest in sensors or IoT devices to collect data from machine performances, operations, inventories, inspection scans, among others. Now that we have the data, what to do with it? First, we need to store it. Thankfully, storing and processing power of IT infrastructures is almost doubling each year! So, without a doubt, the potential is endless here. Lastly, raw data isn’t valuable by itself and needs to be processed into actionable information; this is what software applications and algorithms do. As software tools improve, manufacturers can improve decision making via fast calculations, data analytics, monitoring functions, forecastings, etc.

Blacksmith Adaptive Additive Manufacturing

Adaptive Manufacturing is Integrated

The next quality that an adaptive system must aim to is to establish strong links between its distinct functions. To achieve optimum information flow, manufacturers must organise their systems so data is transferred as efficiently and seamlessly as possible. Furthermore, the ideal is to retrieve and communicate the right data, in the right place, at the right time. A major reason why adaptive manufacturing must be integrated is to generate real-time updates, especially for remote collaboration between involved stakeholders and performance tracking.

To achieve such a level of interconnectivity, a server-based network is necessary. It can be either local or by leveraging a cloud service from a third party. Possessing and maintaining local servers can become prohibitively expensive. But in contrast, cloud servers can be scalable to what the client needs at the moment; hence, there’s no secret to why cloud services are thriving so much. However, as networks become global, sensitive data is exposed, and security practices become the new challenge. With that said, an integrated system enables seamless and comprehensive unification of all real-time processes within fabrication cycles and, subsequently, the supply chain as a whole.

Adaptive Manufacturing is Smart

The last ingredient for adaptive manufacturing is for it to be smart, to act on its own without human intervention. Let’s begin by pointing out that a smart system goes way beyond just automation; it also requires learning and making decisions independently. To better illustrate this distinction, machines with traditional closed-loop automation can self-regulate every cycle without human intervention. Still, this is just a computer following straightforward instructions, nothing truly extraordinary. On the other hand, AI automation adds to the mix a set of cutting-edge technologies like robotics and machine learning algorithms based on the complex pattern-matching capabilities of the human mind. Conclusively, engineers with more time on their hands can focus on the broader picture while leaving machines with specific tasks.

Blacksmith 3D cloud scan data

Markforged Blacksmith and the End-Use Additive Manufacturing Cycle

Since its beginning in 2013, Markforged has continuously aimed its efforts at changing end-use part production as a company dedicated to high-performance additive manufacturing development. As a revolutionary technology, 3D printing enables swift fabrication cycles and opens new possibilities for customisation and flexibility in design.

However, this technology has been facing many downsides when it comes to end-use production. Among the many reasons for this issue, 3D printing is a relatively slow process where consistent serial production is challenging. Likewise, human input on printing presets is not reliable when it comes to precision, part-distortion and demanding tolerance requirements. Subsequently, lengthy series of trial and error processes and quality control inspections add up to significant downtimes.

Being aware of this barrier, Markforged is turning their attention to the latest innovations in AI and cloud software. Markforged’s co-founder and CTO, David Benhaim stated:

“Blacksmith fundamentally changes the way engineers think about additive manufacturing. For the first time, they will have confidence that their parts will perform as expected without a time-consuming process. Blacksmith makes our platform smarter and is the next step on our roadmap to bring the agility of software to the world of manufacturing.”

Blacksmith Workflow

With the X7’s onboard laser, Blacksmith scans the part while printing takes place. Then, the resulting scanned data is compared to the nominal 3D model to analyse deviation maps. But, the true innovation here is its powerful AI, which uses that same deviation data to iterate printing parameters to perfection after learning from each cycle. Now, manufacturers can rely on accurate results from the first go, bringing resiliency and agility to their supply chains. To list some additional benefits that come as a consequence:

  • A reduction of scrap and being able to skip inspection processes enables cost-effective part production
  • Consistency throughout the 3D printer fleet involved in the production of the part
  • Automatic quality report generation provides confidence to clients

For more details on the Blacksmith workflow for the X7 model, check out this page.

The Inner Workings of the Markforged Ecosystem

To give a better insight into a whole picture of what Markforged intends to do with their adaptive approach, let’s explore 3 distinctive angles: Hardware, software and cloud.

The Hardware

Currently, Blacksmith is only available on the X7 model, as it already comes with an incorporated scanner for calibration purposes. However, we’re confident that we’ll have an in-process scanning inspection for the remaining models soon. But for now, let’s see its performance on three separate resolution levels.

Markforged Blacksmith

As scan resolution increases, Blacksmith can gather more data during the printing process. Meaning that Blacksmith can accurately measure smaller features while also increasing the amount of time spent scanning during the print. Increasing scan resolution also allows us to decrease the mean for all part feature measurements, resulting in tighter scan accuracy reporting. Additionally, in-process scanning allows capturing inner details that would otherwise be difficult to get in a separate scanning afterwards. Lastly, the X7’s reliable connectivity enables steady data flows across global networks.

The Software

According to Benhaim, Blacksmith sees each design as a nonlinear combination of geometric components. The mesh file does not depict a part, but rather a series of holes, edges, corners and shapes located relative to each other within a larger geometry.

Blacksmith is directly integrated into the Eiger interface. Although it is incredibly straightforward, easy to use and self-reliant, performance preferences become available for better control over the inspection process. As Eiger creates the slicing for your part, the Blacksmith AI generates an automatic scanning toolpath in parallel. Essentially, Markforged software is entirely integrated since there is no need for secondary systems, additional equipment or separate databases for results.

The Cloud

The Digital Forge is Markforged’s cloud platform that holds together its ecosystem as a whole. Powered by AWS (Amazon Web Services), this powerful AI-based platform opens whole new possibilities for its partakers like:

  • Printing projects on a unified platform
  • Accessible and integrated workflows
  • A centralised library of quality scans
  • Ingenious fleet management with what Markforged calls “fleet federated learning” ─ a form of ML that uses data collected from a multitude of systems to build a database of printer data that allows the platform itself to become smarter over time

There’s no doubt about the exceptional benefits of cloud computing; however, it has one big drawback: Security. Thankfully, you can feel safe with Markforged as they have been keen on establishing top-notch cybersecurity practices. First of all, Markforged is the first (And perhaps the only) additive manufacturing company to achieve the ISO 27001 standard for information security. This certification provides complete confidence in the platform’s robust authentication processes and data encryption. With the largest 3D printer fleet globally, many big clients like Microsoft, the US Airforce, NASA and Airbus are currently participating in this platform.

For more information on security practices, see the official Markforged website.

A Promising Future for Additive Manufacturing

Blacksmith AI approach promises revolutionary first steps regarding how effective an end-use 3D printed parts production can become with the power of adaptive manufacturing. We are in the middle of a new manufacturing era, and Markforged is entirely on board with this promising future, as said in the following declaration by the current chairman and co-founder Greg Mark:

“Electricity was invented in 1880, but it took 40 years and the pandemic of 1918 to spark the Industrial Revolution that built our modern world. 3D printing has reached a similar tipping point. We are nearing the 40th anniversary of the 3D printer. I believe the pandemic of 2020 and the supply chain disruption it has caused will usher in the next great Industrial Revolution, the era of Digital Manufacturing. We are on a mission to put The Digital Forge in every factory on Earth as part of that revolution”.

For more information on Markforged products, SolidPrint3D is here to help you. For more information, please call SolidPrint3D on 01926 333 777 or email on info@solidprint3d.co.uk.

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