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3D Printer Simulator – A Short Guide to 3D Printing Simulations

Picture of César Terrazas
by César Terrazas
Feb 24, 2019

3D Printer Simulator – A Short Guide to 3D Printing Simulations

3D printing simulation has become widespread for some 3D printing processes like SLM. This article will give you an overview of when you might want to use this valuable tool.

3D Printer Simulators 3D Printing Follows Suit

Strain analysis result for aerospace bracket.
Strain analysis result for aerospace bracket. Source: César Terrazas / All3DP

Simulation enables one to predict or estimate how a material will behave under a specific set of constraints or conditions. In engineering and science, this is a necessary tool either to investigate and gain a deeper insight of the physics of a given process or to evaluate the functionality of a component before committing to its manufacture or production.

Simulation has been employed in engineering processes like construction, manufacturing (such as metal injection molding and casting), and robotics. Simulation can be performed using various methods or formulations, of which finite element analysis (FEA) is the most widespread.

In 3D printing, the situation is no different. Even after greatly advancing over the last few decades, 3D printing technology still exhibits downsides, such as the occurrence of defects or errors that can lead to the entire failure of a build. Hence, the ability to simulate the process to compensate and prevent these deficiencies is of utmost importance.

What’s more, as 3D printing technologies provide more flexible alternatives for manufacturing a component, such as increased complexity, simulation becomes a powerful tool to make 3D printing processes more efficient and to guarantee a specific outcome from the process.

3D Printer Simulators The Need for 3D Printing Simulation

Distortion simulation for an impeller using Netfabb.
Distortion simulation for an impeller using Netfabb. Source: Autodesk

Although, in theory, codes can be developed to simulate almost any process, including material extrusion and binder jetting, recent interest has been put in the simulation of selective laser melting (SLM). This process uses a laser to selectively melt metal particles in a powder bed.

Especially with this technology, simulation of the 3D printing process can enable users to gain knowledge of various aspects:

  • Build layout: This helps to obtain the best orientation of parts, the most efficient packing, and whether or not support structures are needed.
  • Part distortion: In this case, simulations help to predict the distortion of parts during the printing process, inducing the various thermo-mechanical changes. For example, the changes induced into the powder particles through interaction with the laser lead to the material expanding, solidifying, and shrinking. Such changes can result in distortion in the produced article.
  • Process-relevant metrics: Metrics include build time and estimated material use, or scrap rates, for production purposes. Here, simulation software can also provide information on the amount of support material expected and an estimate of the time required to complete the process.
  • Post-processing planning: Simulation can anticipate the buildup of stress and the thermal post-processing that might be necessary to relieve them. For example, during the SLM process of the Ti6Al4V alloy, residual stresses will accumulate and distort the part. This dictates that specific support structures should be added to obtain a geometrically accurate component.
  • Contingencies planning: Simulation can help estimate the potential for errors that will lead to complete failure. This can include delamination of the part from the build substrate, the occurrence of defects, or porosity formation.
  • Process physics: Simulation can help to understand the development of defects within parts or the expected microstructure of a given component after the printing process. For example, exaSIM (ANSYS) uses codes that evaluate the thermo-mechanical evolution of the component during the SLM process to compute the expected phase transformations and determine how they will induce specific microstructures and mechanical properties in metallic components.

Currently, no commercial simulation packages are available to simulate the SLA process. Nonetheless, integrated software, such as PreForm by Formlabs, simulate the AM process to provide a time estimation, as well as a measure of the propensity for a part to be completed accurately or not.

The story is much the same for FDM, with limited commercial software to simulate the process. Nevertheless, research efforts have demonstrated the ability to simulate the process.

3D Printer Simulators Software Options

Predicting the distortion of an additive part.
Predicting the distortion of an additive part. Source: mscsoftware.com

To simulate the 3D printing process, a few multi-physics simulation suites can be employed:

  • Comsol: Thanks to its capability of simulating multiple-physics scenarios, this suite can and has been used to simulate additive manufacturing and other similar processes.
  • Ansys: Ansys entered the arena of additive manufacturing simulation with the acquisition of 3DSIM. The suite now offered, exaSIM, enables the simulation of the SLM process, which in theory can also be adapted for the EBM and SLS processes.
  • Simulia: From Dassault Systèmes, this is a software package that provides capability or simulation of various AM processes. It is highly integrated, providing not only simulation of the AM process but also cooperative functionality with the digital thread concept.
  • Altair: Recently, the Amphyon software suite from Additive Works has been reoffered through Altair as a way to simulate the laser powder bed fusion process. This includes simulation and optimization of part orientation.
  • Atlas3D: the software Sunata is offered by Atlas3D for the simulation of the laser-powder bed fusion process. The capabilities include simulation of the optimal part orientation to minimize support structures or to reduce part deformation
  • MSC Simufact: One of the big players in simulation recently released their additive manufacturing simulation suite. The software enables you to simulate the SLM process for distortion, overheating, and model compensation.
  • Netfabb and PAN: Autodesk, after acquiring the rights for Netfabb and PAN computing, has been working on integrating these two pieces of software into a package. It will enable simulation of powder bed fusion processes to identify potential risks, such as the propensity for delamination or the formation or residual stresses.

3D Printer Simulators Not For Everyone

Prediction of support and part distortion in Materialise Magics.
Prediction of support and part distortion in Materialise Magics. Source: Materialise

Slowly, the development of 3D printing, and specifically of processes of high interest such as SLM or electron beam melting (EBM), are being accompanied by efforts to simulate them.

As the tools available become more developed and computational expenses decrease, the use of simulation will become more ubiquitous in everyday use. Nevertheless, for the regular user looking at using 3D printing as a hobby or in a learning environment, simulation might not be required given the unnecessary cost and complexity.

If you have an application that requires printing of high-quality components, with guaranteed printability and properties, then All3DP can help you select from our list of select partners, including commercial printing ventures, to help you achieve your goal.

consider using a 3D printing service. Towards that end, All3DP can help you with Craftcloud, our 3D Printing and Price Comparison Service. We provide real-time prices from leading 3D printing services, such as Shapeways, i.Materialise, and Sculpteo.

Get It 3D Printed
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Craftcloud – 3D Printing & Price Comparison Service by All3DP

Save up to 50% by comparing prices from the leading 3D printing services. Simply upload your models, place your order, and leave the rest to us. Thanks to our partners, we provide worldwide manufacturing and delivery.

Feature image source: Simuleon / YouTube

License: The text of "3D Printer Simulator – A Short Guide to 3D Printing Simulations" by All3DP is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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