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Foundry Printer Console and Operations Manager

Foundry Printer Console and Operations Manager
December 17th, 2020

In a previous blog we provided an overview of Foundry, Digital Alloys’ software platform for implementing Joule Printing™ in production applications and delivering efficient operation of printers at factory-scale. We outlined the steps in the Joule Printing™ workflow and our software modules (shown in Figure 1 below).

Figure 1 - Joule Printing™ workflow and Digital Alloys software modules

A subsequent post provided an overview of Build Planner, our software for managing the build planning step. This blog describes our software for the printing step - our Printer Console and Operations Manager modules. These modules perform essential tasks for smooth, reliable, low-effort operation and management of printing and a printer fleet. Key functions include:

  • Printer Management - The system provides a smooth, automated and intuitive interface for operating each printer. It also provides remote monitoring for supervision of a fleet of printers.
  • Process Control - The Printer Console operates sophisticated embedded control algorithms that ensure that the Joule Printer™ delivers fast, low-cost, high-quality parts in a consistent and reliable fashion.
  • Print Data Management - The software captures essential data for post-print analysis and quality assurance (QA), including print configuration, process data, video, and metadata for cataloguing a large number of prints.
  • Data Management for Manufacturing Execution System and Enterprise Resource Planning (MES/ERP) - A Joule Printer™ fleet will be part of a larger production facility. As such, it should be easy to integrate with MES/ERP systems, and provide data for cost analysis, inventory management, and optimizing the scheduling and utilization of printers.
  • Maintenance, Repair and Operation (MRO) - Foundry provides capability for monitoring and tracking needed for maintenance and repair of the printer fleet.

An overview of the Printer Console and Operations Manager follows.

Printer Console

Printer Console is the command center for printer management and process control. The Printer Console includes a console UI for controlling machine operation, real-time embedded software that runs the Joule Printer™, and tools for remote observation of machine activity.

Printing begins with G-code instructions produced in the build planning step. Execution is streamlined via a print wizard. The operator selects the G-code and consumables (wire, tips, etc)., provides a description of the print’s purpose and parameters, and sends instructions to the appropriate printer. The step-by-step wizard simplifies the collection of useful data while reducing operator errors.

Figure 2 - The Print Wizard

Upon print start, real-time embedded software provides hands-free process control. (Refer to our technology page for a description of the physics of Joule Printing™). This firmware powers the printer to deliver the three elements of successful 3D printing:

  1. control of the location of the center of each voxel, achieved through the precision motion system;
  2. control of the amount of material in each voxel, achieved by controlling wire feed; and
  3. control of the amount of energy delivered to each voxel, achieved by controlling the current and voltage delivered across the melt pool.

This tight control of process parameters allows the system to deliver consistently dense (99.5%+), strong, isotropic parts. Printer Console logs the process data for every voxel together with video of the print, providing the capability for post-print analysis.

Figure 3 – Real-time control of Joule Printing™. The system captures both print video and process control data.

The Printer Console includes a web camera for recording and remote viewing. The console UI, together with printer data and video display, can be accessed remotely by a user who has appropriate privileges. This enables remote monitoring and management of a printer fleet. The video is saved with print process data for post-print analysis and QA.

A power user, service technician or researcher might wish to modify G-code files or directly control machine subsystems. That functionality is provided through interfaces shown in Figures 4 and 5 below. Machine subsystems can be controlled through dedicated panels for motion, wire feed, and power control. The operator can send G-code commands through an interactive terminal, or modify G-code build files using the GCode Editor.

Figure 4 - The primary Printer Console interface with control panels open.
Figure 5 - Printer subsystems can also be controlled through an interactive G-Code terminal
Operations Manager

Operations Manager is the system that captures and manages data from prints, and for MES/ERP and MRO. It provides a birds eye view of the printer fleet through its operations management UI, which enables data to be easily observed, searched and controlled.

This system captures print data outlined above, as well as metadata about the printer fleet. API’s will be provided to integrate data from the fleet with popular MES and ERP systems, allowing the fleet to be integrated with the rest of a factory. All data about the fleet is available in searchable tables. From here, the user can launch the printer console for any printer in the fleet.

Figure 6 - The printer fleet dashboard

The key datum for print data management is the print. It represents a run of the printer with a specific set of parameters and instructions. A table of prints provides a real time view of this activity with links to other software modules like Data Analyzer (a software module we will describe in our next blog post). The user can select a specific print to open a complete record of a print, including configuration data, video, and recorded process data. This provides the platform for post-print analysis and QA (to be described in our next blog).

Figure 7 - A catalogue of print activity on a Joule Printer

Data for MES/ERP and MRO is also captured in dedicated views and made available through API’s for integration to other systems. Critical data for cost accounting, production planning and inventory management include consumables consumption (tips, plates, wire) and printer activity (print time, idle time, etc). These data are captured automatically by Printer Console. An interface for manual data entry is also provided, as are built in tracking and usage reporting features. Similarly, maintenance and repair data (as well as a log of usage of key wear items) is incorporated.

Figure 8 – Refurbishing consumables through the inventory management interface
Figure 9 - The maintenance management Interface

Digital Alloys’ Foundry software suite powers the full Joule Printing™ workflow. Printer Console and Operations Manager provide the functionality for printing parts, and capturing and managing data for Printer Management, Print Management, MES/ERP, and MRO.

The final step in the workflow is analysis and quality assurance. That step is powered by Data Analyzer, the subject of our next blog.

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Please check out other posts in our blog series:

Digital Alloys’ Guide to Metal Additive Manufacturing

Learn about the technology behind our process:

Joule Printing - The Fastest Way to Make the Hardest Parts

Gordon Finnie
Software Engineer

Digital Alloys is committed to providing the technology and expertise manufacturers need to use metal additive manufacturing in production — enabling them to save time, shrink costs, and produce valuable new product.