Additive manufacturing workflow software solutions

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A production manufacturing tool doesn´t operate isolated. It is integrated into the upstream and downstream processes, and is only valuable when the integration is made successfully.

Many publications about metal 3D printing only consider the 3D printing process, despising the important process steps before and after the printing process. Then, implementing a successful Metal Additive Manufacturing production process requires more than installing and operating a printer. The additive manufacturing workflow must be considered in evaluating, selecting, testing, and implementing an additive manufacturing solution.

For service bureaus and AM departments, order management refers to the process of receiving, tracking and fulfilling incoming orders efficiently. In additive manufacturing this means establishing the correct people and processes required to ensure the smooth running of operations, so that the right users receive the right parts at the right time. Whether using additive for prototyping, tooling or end parts, how AM department or service bureau receives and handles orders will be crucial to the efficiency of the overall workflow.

While the order management stage is a critical part of any additive manufacturing workflow, for many companies it’s an area that is often non-solved by inefficient and manual processes that ultimately slow down the subsequent stages of the additive manufacturing workflow.

How does workflow software help to fit the additive manufacturing production?

Workflow software brings connectivity to the process, something that custom in-house solutions are often unable to replicate. When an order is received through workflow software, the software provides a centralized platform to ensure that the process is streamlined. Workflow softwares gives production managers and machine operators a full, visual overview of all the requests received, and the ability to directly schedule these requests for production. If post-processing is required, not only can this be specified in the request form, but the platform also ensures that all of the post-processing steps have been completed. And of course, all updates and activities can be tracked and traced throughout the whole workflow.

This article will take you through how using workflow software to automate the process will enable the team to focus their efforts on more productive, value-driving tasks.

DSM, a global science-based company and material producer, partnering with six start-ups, presented a digital Additive Manufacturing platform at Formnext 2019 as being part of the DSM’s I AM Tomorrow challenge, and Autodesk has unveiled on the last November two collaborations with the 3D software developers Link3D and AMFG, both focused on establishing end-to-end digital workflows.

Digital Platform is capable of giving manufacturers a detailed and personalized 3D printing workflow. It will remove a lot of the complexity that has crept into the industry in recent years,(…)”

-Hugo da Silva, VP of DSM,  in an interview to Anas Essop/3D Printing Industry

 In the case of Link3D, the partnership is based on a fully integrated additive manufacturing workflow using Autodesk software to enable full traceability. Link3D Additive MES connects bidirectionally into Autodesk Fusion 360 and Autodesk Netfabb and can be used in the downstream production process to manually alter and control data preparation at all stages.

 The Step-by-step additive manufacturing workflow

The Metal AM process steps depend on many factors including the technology, equipment, industry, and application. This post describes a general workflow which applies in most cases. Here are the five key sections of an additive manufacturing process: Design, Pre-processing, Printing, Post-processing and Quality Assurance.

AM Design  

Design is the first step in the workflow. The challenges and opportunities in design for metal additive manufacturing vary with whether a pre-existent part is chosen for printing or if a new part design is created.  

For an existing part design, the objective is usually to select a production process that requires few modifications to the part. This reduces the costs of redesign and qualification.  

The business value for 3D printing in these cases will rely on time and production cost savings, rather than improved product performance.

The time-to-value for metal additive manufacturing is generally shorter if an existing part design is selected.

For a new, clean sheet design, design balances product function with manufacturability. Designing and modifying parts for additive manufacturing opens improved product performance as a potential driver of business value.  Each metal additive manufacturing process technology has its own design rules that limit part geometry and dictate the design of any structures needed to support the part during printing. Engineers are increasingly turning to generative design and topology optimization to design for 3D printing, and new tools are coming to market for this task. 

AM Pre-Processing   

Pre-processing is between design and printing. The first pre-processing step is to convert a 3D CAD file into instructions the printer uses to build each layer of the part. These instructions are created by a “slicer”, which slices the design file into layers of “voxels” and generates a toolpath for the printing process. The toolpath incorporates both position information and print-process parameters (for example, the power needed to melt metal) for each voxel. There may be multiple parts in a single build, in which case organizing the parts efficiently on a build plate is an added step.

Defining process parameters of some metal AM technologies is a complex iterative process because the quality of metal printed and the accuracy of the print are highly sensitive to these parameters. In volume production, print parameters are often fixed and then maintained with ongoing machine calibration.  In some technologies, process parameters are managed in real time with closed loop process control. 

Once the software pre-processing and parameter development are complete, there is the physical setup of the machine. Physical setup includes:


  1. Loading and aligning the build plate or substrate
  2. Preparing the printing chamber atmosphere (molten metal needs to be protected from oxygen)
  3. Preparing and loading the feedstock for the printer.  The complexity of these steps will depend on the feedstock type.
3D Printing  

Printing, while cool to watch, should actually be the process step that requires the least attention. Ideally, the 3D printer is able to run “lights out” with no operator monitoring or intervention. This is true today for more mature and stable processes and equipment. 

The printing step can take anywhere from minutes to many days, depending on the printing technology and size of the build. Most 3D printers heat the build plate or whole build envelope before printing. This can add considerable time which must be factored into cycle time calculations. Some processes require heat treatments for stress relief during the printing process which also adds time and cost to the printing step. Once a printing process is predictable enough that it doesn’t need monitoring, the operator can spend print time on other tasks, improving overall productivity.

AM Post Processing 

Post-processing is often more expensive and time consuming than the printing process itself. John Barnes of The Barnes Group Advisors says that post-processing is “typically where the battle is won or lost”.

The steps vary widely between various additive manufacturing processes, equipment, applications, etc. The steps have to be designed carefully to meet all the part requirements (e.g. accuracy, surface roughness, strength, etc.) and this is another area where iteration and testing are typically needed for program validation. Most of the key steps are outlined below.

Build Removal

  • Removing excess material from the build inside the printer (e.g. in powder bed processes);
  • Removing the build from the printer;
  • Inspection for accuracy, potential delamination, surface quality, support attachments, etc.


Part Separation

  • Removing parts from the build plate, using EDM, band saw or machining;
  • Removing parts from each-other if attached for nesting purposes;
  • Removing supports from individual parts, often requiring clippers, EDM, bandsaw or machining (support removal can also be completed in secondary machining steps);


De-binding and Sintering (for binder processes)

  • Soaking parts in solution for up to a couple days to remove binding materials from the metal;
  • Sintering highly porous parts from previous step to reduce porosity; 


  • Machining to remove remaining supports, smooth surfaces, add critical features, and hit critical tolerances;
  • Custom fixtures may need to be created to hold printed parts for secondary operations. If the part geometry is complex or organic, these fixtures can become resource intensive to design and manufacture;

Surface Finishing

  • Polishing surfaces where surface roughness requirements were not achievable from machining;
  • Tumbling or Shot peening to smooth and/or work harden surfaces, or mitigate issues with loose powder on unfinished surfaces;

Heat Treatment – Often performed at multiple steps throughout the workflow but most frequently:

  • HT after build removal to help relieve residual stresses;
  • Hot Isostatic Pressing (HIP) often used by powder processes after part separation to decrease porosity and further relieve stresses;
  • Furnace Sintering, required for powder binder processes after binder removal. It can result in a lot of shrinkage and drift in geometry. This must be compensated for upstream at the design stage and managed closely with QA;
  • HT before machining to temper the material and reduce hardness (due to rapid cooling in most metal printing processes, the material can be in a highly hardened state that is difficult to machine)
  • HT after machining to achieve final hardness requirements and desired metallurgy phases and grain structure 
The Quality Assurance

Quality Assurance for additive manufacturing is not a single in step. It is a set of inspections, measurements, analyses and documentation performed throughout the workflow.  Quality Assurance for metal additive manufacturing is unique. Unlike most conventional manufacturing processes, the repeatability of most metal 3D printing processes cannot be taken for granted. Certain processes are particularly sensitive to material input and process variables which are hard to control. This is what reinforces the need for a robust QA strategy that addresses software, hardware and materials. Processes which are able to directly measure and control the metal deposition process will have an advantage. 

The three major industries requiring advanced workflow software

-Aerospace industry OEMs
The aerospace industry requires a repeatable, qualified and secure production process. Also, due to pioneering this industry, managing aerospace AM workflows becomes challenging when organizations must adhere to strict customer requirements and a wide range of regulatory standards. It’s also important for companies in this sector to choose a workflow software that allows companies to make informed decisions based on good data analytics and business intelligence.
-Automotive OEMs
For the Automotive industry it’s key to reduce component costs (as it is for many additive manufacturing industries), but any serious player on the automotive additive manufacturing sector needs a properly secured and centralized system that allows to scale production with minimum losses and a resilient supply chain.
-Oil and Gas
Oil and gas companies are in high need for a distributed production of spare parts, and to reduce time between order to delivery. This is forcing them to turn to digital additive manufacturing workflow software to speed up prototyping, tooling, and manufacturing of end use and spare parts.
It’s true that to date, the Oil and Gas companies have shown a slow additive manufacturing adoption rate, but it’s expected to boom in the next years both due to aging equipment that needs additional spares or replacement, as well as more demands to reduce unnecessary waste and costs in the oil sector.

Developing a custom metal AM workflow may seem a discourage task, especially the first time a business implements metal additive manufacturing, but there are many professional resources, consultants, service providers, and OEMs with the expertise to help.

To summarize, having the right order management process can help additive manufacturing departments greatly reduce the time spent on routine, manual submission tasks, thereby speeding up the overall production process. Ultimately, this will allow the team to spend much less time on manual submission tasks, and creates a culture of transparency and traceability right from the outset.

While this stage is often despised, order management is the starting point for a successful additive manufacturing workflow. Not having a standardized way for the end users to submit their internal requests makes organizing and scheduling projects much more difficult for the additive manufacturing team.

The available softwares enables order submitters to communicate directly with technicians and application engineers to finalize production requirements, costing and quoting, production planning and scheduling, post-processing and quality inspection, delivery – data analytics and more.

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Sources & More information

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Article and featured image:


AMFGWhy a scalable additive manufacturing workflow starts with the right order management process published on May07 2020, re-edited and published by João Andrade on Mar28 2020;

Anas Essop, 3D Printing Industry DSM partners with six software start-ups to develop additive manufacturing workflow platform published on Dec09 2020, re-edited and published by João Andrade on Mar28 2020;

Digital AlloysDigital Alloys’ Guide to Metal Additive Manufacturing – Part 3 / Process Steps in the Metal Additive Manufacturing Workflow published on Mar13 2020, re-edited and published by João Andrade on Mar28 2020;

Leslie Langnau, Make Parts Fast Improving additive manufacturing workflow published on Dec06 2018, re-edited and published by João Andrade on Mar28 2020;

Featured Image, Article Photo and Videos:

Autodesk AliasAutodesk Automotive Showreel 2018 published on Jul16 2019, re-published by João Andrade on Mar28 2020;

JabilAdditive Manufacturing for Aerospace & Defense: An Evolution of Manufacturing Processes published on Dec12 2019, re-published by João Andrade on Mar28 2020;

Link3d AMES Workflow SoftwareAutodesk Netfabb & Link3D Integrated workflows published on Mar12 2019, re-published by João Andrade on Mar28 2020;

Society of Petroleum EngineersHow 3D Printing Can Help the Oil & Gas Industry published on Jul16 2019, re-published by João Andrade on Mar28 2020;


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