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5 essential skills you need as an AM Design Engineer in 2022

5 essential skills you need as an AM Design Engineer

Across all markets, we’re seeing the adoption of additive manufacturing (AM) solutions rapidly accelerating to address an increasingly broad range of applications. 2022 is set to be a year of incredible growth as AM becomes even more mainstream. What are the 5 essential skills you need as an AM design engineer in 2022? Certainly, it’s important to fully understand the fundamentals of design for additive manufacturing, to also learn and borrow from the best, to really know your materials and to also learn how to push the boundaries of the design tools you have available. Here we provide you with 5 skills that will support your success in 2022.

1. Learn how to reverse engineer inspirational designs

Steal like an artist by Austin Kleon

Nobody is born with engineering skills. We gain them from education and experience. 99.9% of all products and designs have been influenced by a design that has gone before. The best designers in the world have likely analysed more excellent designs than the average person. With that in mind, the first skill we recommend you improve in 2022 is to recognise the techniques that designers use to create designs that inspire you. One way to learn from the best designers is to use the following techniques:

  1. Create a digital notebook of designs – this could be a simple PowerPoint or a Pinterest board, but it should be easy to view a design and file it for later analysis.
  2. Analyse the design techniques used – this may be topology optimisation, use of lattice structures, interesting geometry to reduce support structure usage or even a prediction of the build orientation. Once you have an understanding of the techniques, analyse why the designer made that decision and what impact the technique has on the functionality of the component. For example, the designer may have used topology optimisation for an aerospace component because reducing the mass of the part will lead to cost savings over the lifecycle of the component.
  3. Create a list of techniques and geometries to incorporate into your future designs – copying a single design is plagiarism and must be avoided, but incorporating the best parts of many designs will lead to the creation of new and improved components. Make a list of ideas from your favourite designs and incorporate some of those into your AM components.

Resources: Austin Kleon – Steal Like an Artist

2. Familiarise yourself with the materials that can be 3D printed

Types of metal for additive manufacturing

New materials are constantly being developed for additive manufacturing whose properties are tailored for specific industries. Examples include:

  • Aluminium alloys with high yield strength and ductility such as Fehrmann Alloys AlMgTy or AP Works Scalmalloy materials
  • High-temperature alloys for aerospace applications including super alloys like ABD900 and Platinium-Iridium
  • Specialist powders including extremely hard materials like diamond have been produced by Sandvik

We can expect many more to come in 2022, so there is no better time to update your knowledge on what materials are possible to print. This will ensure you are best placed to fit the right material to your design specifications in this year’s design projects.

The mechanical properties of a chosen material will have a major impact on the final geometry of a part and so extensive knowledge of materials allows designers to fit the material specifications to the final design of a part.  The material cannot be selected independently because it’s inherently tied to both the function of the part and the manufacturing process and this will influence the shape of the final part.

The chosen material relates to the function and shape of the part and the manufacturing process

Function, shape, process, material

Resources: Material Selection in Mechanical Design – Michael Ashby

3. Learn to push the boundaries of your design for AM tools… or make new ones

The law of the instrument

There are many high-quality software solutions for design for additive manufacturing. Every year new tools have been launched that push the envelope for design possibilities. However, all design tools inevitably limit the design freedom available to users because of the limitations set by the software.

A common cognitive bias, commonly known as Maslow’s hammer, states that “if all you have is a hammer, then everything begins to look like a nail.” Nearly all parts that exist have been designed using conventional CAD tools. and although these tools have been optimised to help design a huge array of products, new and improved design tools are needed that can design better-optimised products, at a lower cost in a faster time.

The design for additive manufacturing workflow can span multiple software products. It’s important to know the strengths and weaknesses of each software and how best to transfer data between them to create an efficient workflow. For example, using Sulis Flow and Autodesk Generative Design to design lightweight AM fluid components. Check if a software product has an open API, scripting or block programming capability to customise data exchange or build upon the software’s capabilities.

If you want to create a new design tool the starting point is to learn some basic programming skills. Many programming languages are valuable but Python will likely get you up and running the fastest.

Resources: – Python module for coding parametric CAD models

4. Review the fundamentals of DfAM

Intro to DfAM course

There is no better time to review the fundamentals of design for AM than 2022. Often we are designing parts using a specific AM technology and a specific material. However, it can be beneficial to review the different processes that are available and the various design techniques that we can use to optimise parts for additive manufacturing.

Gen3D has an online course that is perfect to review the fundamentals of design for additive manufacturing. The course is split into four key principles.

  1. Firstly, design for the correct manufacturing process. Here we consider the principle AM processes and understand how to select a process for a given design problem.
  2. Secondly, design for minimal material usage, where we cover advanced design techniques such as latticing and topology optimisation.
  3. Thirdly, design for improved functionality covers topics such as biomimetics and generative design.
  4. The final principle in the course, design for part consolidation provides an overview of the advantages and disadvantages of part consolidation and gives some advice on achieving part consolidation in your own assemblies.

Resources: Introduction to Design for Additive Manufacturing

5. Learn more about other manufacturing processes

he manufacturing process of casting

At Gen3D, we believe that when it comes to additive manufacturing, “If you can make it another way, you probably should!” However, in order to truly appreciate this statement, you need a good understanding of what is possible with the other manufacturing techniques. Whilst it’s true that additive manufacturing technology has been advancing its capabilities over the last 5 years, this is also true for other technologies. What was previously difficult or impossible to machine or cast is now possible – see Tesla Gigapress. This means it is important to learn more about casting, machining, forging and injection moulding.

Why is learning about other manufacturing processes important?

In the world of additive manufacturing, we often hear the view that many engineers don’t understand how to design for additive manufacturing. Most of the designs that are sent to service bureaus are not optimised for additive manufacturing and therefore the world needs more additive manufacturing knowledge. We’re not going to argue that this isn’t true, however, many designs that have been designed for additive manufacturing, could probably also be manufactured less expensively using another process such as casting or machining with only a few small design changes.

We, therefore, recommend you learn more about the freedoms and constraints of the different processes, especially those technologies that are closely related to additive manufacturing. Research the cutting edge of 5-axis CNC machining and hybrid processes such as additive casting to ensure that you can really answer the question – does this part really need to be 3D printed? With this in mind 2022 seems like the perfect opportunity to refresh your knowledge of legacy manufacturing technologies.

Gen3D offer a FREE design for additive manufacturing course which provides a thorough overview of design for additive manufacturing (DfAM) fundamentals. The online course consists of 5 parts that cover the core design principles anyone getting into AM should know. The course can be taken online at your own pace. You will receive a course completion certificate once all 5 lessons are completed.