10 Features of a 3D Printing Workflow Software that are Truly Essential
28 July 2020
Workflow software tops the list of solutions when you need to streamline your 3D printing operations, but the process of selecting the one that can best meet your needs may be tricky.
To help you with your decision-making process, we’ve put together a list of 10 features your workflow software must have to help you get the maximum value and efficiency from your 3D printing operations.
What is a 3D printing workflow software?
3D printing workflow software, also often referred to as Manufacturing Execution System (MES), supports the management, monitoring and automation of all real-time processes related to 3D printing and Additive Manufacturing (AM). This can include, but isn’t limited to, quoting parts, managing orders and scheduling production.
Workflow software also allows companies to track and document all of its AM-related data, such as production costs, material usage and order turnaround time.
When developed with 3D printing requirements in mind, such software helps you to coordinate tasks between people, synchronise data between systems and make your day-to-day 3D printing processes more efficient.
Why should my company consider workflow software?
3D printing workflow/MES software can provide a range of benefits for your company. Below, we’ve summarised the 4 key advantages of using it:
- Increased visibility: View progress across all your AM projects, monitor timelines and share project statuses in real time.
- Traceability and accountability: Provide timely updates to team members at all levels and eliminate confusion regarding individual roles and responsibilities.
- Standardised processes: Establish a central location for all project details and updates; a centralised platform also facilitates standardisation.
- Automation: Replace spreadsheets and manual processes with streamlined, digital workflows.
10 Features Your 3D printing workflow software must possess
As you research 3D printing workflow software solutions, you’ll likely choose the right tool by the features it offers. Consider this list of required workflow software features to help you get started:
1. The ability to customise
Since each company’s workflows and processes are unique, a good workflow software gives you the flexibility to customise the platform to your needs.
This might involve tailoring the customer-facing interfaces to match your brand and adapting the software to meet cultural and language requirements, ultimately ensuring brand consistency.
2. Integration with other software solutions
Today, the vast majority of companies use a range of different software solutions. For this reason, integration between business-critical systems is vital to ensuring the seamless flow of data between different areas of an organisation.
Additive workflow and MES software that can be successfully integrated with the company’s other tools, like ERP and business intelligence software, provides an unprecedented level of visibility, synchronisation across and control over the entire AM process.
Software integrations also mean you can transfer data without manual data entry, speeding up your internal processes.
3. Machine connectivity
A robust MES software should offer some ability to integrate with machines. Currently, the industry protocol, OPC-UA, is one of the most common ways to establish machine connectivity, as it allows for the fast transfer of large quantities of data.
Alternatively, an MES vendor may offer plug and play solutions through open API’s. This is particularly common for manufacturers with a fleet of desktop machines, for example.
4. Production planning and scheduling
Production planning is the critical functionality of a 3D printing workflow software. This feature covers efficient management of the production processes, including build preparation, scheduling, machine usage and work order creation.
A clear production planning process brings greater control over the production process itself, helping you to monitor your AM processes and respond to events in real time.
5. Insights to help identify bottlenecks
To successfully manage your AM workflow, you need to be aware of any issues or bottlenecks that require a quick solution. To be able to track all production and machine data throughout the production process, you need at least two features – insightful reports and a KPI dashboard.
Such features help you improve your processes so that employees can focus on more productive work.
For example, a KPI dashboard allows you to track and document KPIs related to Overall Equipment Efficiency (OEE), such as machine usage, production output and time to repair.
With data being at the heart of 3D printing, analytics has become a must-have feature, essential for enhancing AM workflow management processes.
6. Team communication
Good workflow software for 3D printing must support communications around tasks right where work is happening.
Communication features let project participants comment on files and receive email notifications of project updates.
Furthermore, a centralised workflow software platform eliminates the need to email each user once a part has been manufactured by providing users with the ability to log in and review the status of their parts themselves.
7. Email integration
When managing a high number of 3D printing requests regularly, following a thread of email correspondence, both within the team and with customers, can quickly become chaotic.
The ability to email from your workflow management software can bring order into your communication processes and significantly increase your team’s productivity.
Using communication tools within a centralised platform helps save time when communicating with customers and allows you to keep track of messages with greater ease.
8. Version control
A good workflow automation software allows your team to make changes without interrupting workflow. It also enables managers to audit and track the history of the files from one single location.
This feature also helps reduce version control errors by securely tracking the files throughout the workflow and making sure that team members only access the correct version of data.
9. 3D printability analysis and repair tools
Converting a CAD-designed model into an STL file format for 3D printing is an unavoidable step in the 3D printing process. However, when an STL file is poorly exported, this can lead to a myriad of unexpected and, typically, undesired results, affecting the printability of a part.
A workflow software solution, with integrated file analysis and repair tools, allows you to repair errors, which occur when converting from CAD to STL, and prepare the files for printing.
As your use of 3D printing continues to grow, you’ll need workflow software that is flexible enough to accommodate this growth and to respond to the evolving needs of your business.
The right workflow/MES software for 3D printing is one that enables an organisation to scale its operations quickly and that successfully accommodates an increase in production volumes.
Opting for the right 3D printing workflow solution
Choosing a solution for managing your 3D printing workflows is not easy. You need to consider so many factors that you may not be aware of. That’s why we’ve put together this list, hoping it will help you get started with your research.
AMFG is dedicated to providing the industry-leading 3D printing and additive manufacturing workflow management/MES solutions. AMFG’s platform has been specifically developed to bring the benefits of streamlined, coordinated and more efficient AM workflows. See our software in action by scheduling a demo.