First Look—Atlas3D Sunata 3D Printing Simulation
Phillip Keane posted on January 31, 2019 |

We recently took a look at the current state of 3D printing simulation software in a two-part article series (here and here). In those articles, we spoke to several companies about how simulation in 3D printing is needed for reducing failed builds, and how it is particularly important for high-end industries such as aerospace, which are focused on making parts of repeatable quality for use in their applications.

Metal 3D printing isn’t cheap, with the machines costing millions of dollars and the materials costing thousands of dollars per kilogram. Failed builds are not a welcome thing, especially where cost and quality are drivers.

U.S.-based simulation company Atlas3D is another company making waves in the 3D printing simulation domain, and has recently released its cloud-based, International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR)-compliant software solution known as Sunata.

Atlas3D, which was spun out of ITAMCO (Indiana Technology and Manufacturing Companies) in 2017, developed Sunata as a plug-in for Autodesk Inventor. Since realizing the potential value of Sunata, Atlas3D has released it as a stand-alone product.

So, what makes this product standout in this rapidly growing simulation domain?

The key lies in its proprietary Thermal Circuit Network technology.

Figure 1. Thermal stress simulation for metal parts. (Image courtesy of Atlas3D.)
Figure 1. Thermal stress simulation for metal parts. (Image courtesy of Atlas3D.)

We spoke to Chad Barden, CEO of Atlas3D to take a first look at how the company’s software is helping to reduce costs and get things right, the first time.

“Atlas 3D has democratized the black art of additive manufacturing by providing our customers with the answer to the questions, ‘How do I orient this part and how do I support it?’” said Barden.

“We provide that answer by simulating 100+ intelligently chosen orientations with our proprietary algorithm dubbed the ‘Thermal Circuit Network,’ or ‘TCN.’ The TCN is the only simulation algorithm that is able to accurately simulate the thermal gradient at both the part and that microscale, allowing us to achieve the requisite accuracy without the computational overhead typically associated with build simulation.”

Figure 2. Sunata runs simulations on different optimizations.(Image courtesy of Atlas3D.)
Figure 2. Sunata runs simulations on different optimizations.(Image courtesy of Atlas3D.)

Many failed builds in metal 3D printing can be attributed to thermal distortions, which themselves can result from incorrect build orientation. The TCN technology eliminates failed builds by running over 100 simulations to determine the optimum build simulation and support material locations, where the distortions are minimized.

How easy is it to run these simulations?

We viewed a demo while speaking to Barden, and, as it turns out, it’s fairly easy indeed. And that’s the point of the software. You can see a similar demo of the process in the video below.

As we have covered many times at engineering.com, one of the key trends over the last couple of years has been a focus on bringing simulation out of the domain of simulation specialists and into the hands of design engineers on the shop floor (or office floor). And that is what Atlas3D is delivering too.

The result is not just a general guide, but a definitive answer as to how thermal distortions can be reduced.

Figure 3. The Sunata process.(Image courtesy of Atlas3D.)
Figure 3. The Sunata process.(Image courtesy of Atlas3D.)

Let’s look in more detail at why TCN may be a preferable solution to other simulation techniques.

“Typically, inherent strain and finite element method are used for these kinds of things,” said Barden. “But inherent strain relies on perfect process parameters, and this is not so easy when it comes to the varying melt pool that you get with metal printing. The melt pool size changes during the print process, and the inherent strain method can’t quite capture that.

“FEA is accurate, provided you have the right mesh size, but this can be computationally intensive. With our Thermal Circuit Network method, we aggregate all of the elements, and each node within the element has equal or similar thermal transfer characteristics as the next. This allows us to build the thermal gradient of the part very quickly.”

Just how quickly?

Well, it was fairly quick before, but just recently Atlas3D has harnessed the power of GPUs to accelerate the process significantly, compared to its old CPU-based process.

With the CPU method, it was possible to simulate 16 orientations at a time. Now, with the boost from GPU power, users can run 100 orientations at a time. This cuts the simulation time from over 2,000 minutes down to just 106 minutes for complicated geometries. Figure 4 shows more information on how simulation time has been slashed through the use of GPUs.

Figure 4.With added GPU power, Sunata runs simulations a whole lot faster.(Image courtesy of Atlas3D.)

As we mentioned previously, this technology is very useful in high-end manufacturing industries such as aerospace. And while Atlas3D is a relatively new company, it already has some high-profile customers in the aerospace arena. 

Companies such as Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Sikorsky and Moog have all been using Sunata to date.

That’s not a bad client list for a two-year-old company.

If you’d also like to get your hands on Sunata, you can request a demo over at this link.



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