Welcome to The D3D 30, our round-up of 30 new technologies from around the world that we firmly believe could give your 2021 product development work a major boost
We’ve curated a wide-ranging round-up of 2021’s most exciting technologies for product design and development. Each has its own individual strengths, but all aim to speed up processes and add new value to your workflows
Despite the uncertainty that many businesses worldwide faced in 2020, innovation never slowed – in fact, quite the opposite: new tools and software, and paths around new problems, were all found.
To help you keep on top of all the progress being made, we’ve produced our list of the 30 latest pieces of technology that we believe will change the way that companies design, develop and manufacture products.
Picked entirely on merit, we’re excited to showcase this illustrious group. It includes software that takes us in new directions; start-ups producing impressive new AR headsets; 3D printing stalwarts embracing new materials – all with the aim of helping users to create the products and systems of the future.
Last year’s list highlighted several new technologies, which we watched grow in terms of capability and adoption. This year, many of you tell us you now use these technologies daily.
With any luck, you’ll stumble across more this year – and hopefully you’ll have the chance to get hands-on with many of these in the months to come, including at DEVELOP3D LIVE, which returns to the UK in April 2022.
Simple assembly simulation
Mainstream simulation tools have for too long focused on static structural analysis of single parts.
The received wisdom here has been that simulation and complex assemblies are the sole purview of the analyst.
Altair’s SimSolid rewrites that rulebook. By sidestepping the age-old challenges of defining contact and meshing, and by providing near real-time results, irrespective of assembly size or complexity, it allows engineers to evaluate fully featured assemblies, rather than idealised, stripped-back data.
And that makes the whole process far more efficient.
New CPU to take on Intel
Intel has long been the dominant force in workstation CPUs. But last year, AMD took the high-end performance lead with the 64-core Threadripper (Pro). Now, with Ryzen 5000, AMD’s also staking a claim for the mainstream workstation crown.
With single-threaded performance comparable to 11th Gen Intel Core processors and offering double the number of cores, the Ryzen 5000 has plenty to offer CAD users who also want multithreaded horsepower for rendering or simulation.
Currently, the only way to get a Ryzen 5000 workstation is through specialist manufacturers – but it’s surely only a matter of time before Dell, HP or Lenovo come on board.
Opening up access to advanced CAM
Autodesk has been on an interesting mission to open up access to advanced NC programming tools for a number of years now.
The results of this work are abundantly apparent in its flagship Fusion 360 system, which sees knowledge and technologies from the likes of both HSM and Delcam integrated at a root level.
We’re not just talking a cursory, sideways glance at CAM, but professional NC programming for 2.5-axis and 3-axis production machining, up to complex 5-axis.
Integrated CAD/CAM might not be unique, but the fact that it’s now available for $495 a year is mind-blowing.
Let there be lattices
Carbon is set to give wider access to its Design Engine software – the lattice software that has enraptured Specialized, Riddell and a whole host of top tier brands bringing Carbon’s end use parts into public view.
Design Engine is a cloud-based application, which provides the computational power to generate complex shapes quickly and efficiently without requiring local resources.
Add on Carbon’s new European reseller network, putting Carbon M2 3D printers into the hands of more designers, and we expect to see more productive uptake of both the brand’s hardware and software throughout 2021.
40-inch 5K2K display
It’s hard to get excited about monitors these days, given that every company offers a 4K product with all the ports, bells and whistles you’ll ever need.
One that really stood out for us this year was Dell’s UltraWide U4021QW, with its ultrawide, 5K2K resolution and USB-C connectivity.
In a year in which everyone has re-evaluated how they use computing, particularly at home, this unit feels like a good option for those of us who want a high-fidelity display, but not something that makes their back bedroom look like Darth Vader’s bathroom.
Post-processing for additive at scale
As we move into an era in which additive is a serious contender in production manufacturing, we’re going to need the ancillary tools for post-processing and finishing that traditional manufacturing processes have had for decades.
One of the handful of companies addressing this is DyeMansion and its new PowerShot Dual Performance system, which combines de-powdering and finishing of polymer additive parts in one slick, highly automated unit.
A glimpse of the future of virtual collaboration
There’s a notion in the design/engineering collaboration software world that we should tolerate crappy avatars and unrealistic representations of participants in the virtual world, just as we tolerate flat-shaded 3D models, “because: engineering”. In other words, engineering review means crappy robots and/or stick figures.
Unreal’s MetaHumans disproves this notion. Imagine ultra-realistic representations of humans which can be tailored to represent yourself and your team.
They’re not just great in marketing shoots; you can also interact with these virtual humans as you would in the real world. Uncanny valley be damned, let’s get real.
Benchtop sintering for the masses
First announced in 2017, Formlabs’ benchtop sintering machine took four years to reach the market – but now that it’s arrived, it looks more than capable of delivering on its promises.
While small form factor sinterers are available from other vendors, Formlabs has done here what it does best: take a complex build process and package it up in a slick product intended for those looking for a tool that supports the design process, rather than leaving them tinkering with a machine all day.
It’s early days yet, but it looks like Formlabs may have managed to reinvent laser sintering for the masses, just as it did with SLA.
Having made its debut as an intuitive virtual reality (VR) sketching app, Gravity Sketch has made a number of changes since it received £2.9m in funding last year.
Its iPad app represents the most prominent shift, taking its quick sketch tools out of the VR environment and placing them on Apple’s Pencil-driven hardware.
Gravity Sketch execs say that under the hood, the application is identical to its VR variant, using the same geometry engine.
As a result, the potential to flit back and forth between VR headset and iPad makes for an interesting proposition.
Bananas for Cinema 4D
We’ve seen a fast throughput of new products from Greyscalegorilla since the company first began offering Maxon Cinema 4D training a few years back. Since then, it’s steadily added 3D software textures, materials and HDRIs.
All of the above are packaged up in Greyscalegorilla Plus, which provides a bounty of resources for Cinema 4D users.
Plug-ins make complex animations look easy, while specialist materials like the Car Paint pack include a custom-built metallic flake system that gives a natural sparkle without the need for UVs. They’re compatible with Arnold, Octane and Redshift.
Designed from the ground up to provide either an end-to-end reverse engineering solution, or to complement existing metrology technology, Recreate is Hexagon’s latest tool to speed up the workflow for taking a 3D scan to a manufacturable model.
From point cloud data, the user is able to prepare CAD models and drawings, while the tools offered enable models to be edited and validated for manufacturing before export.
If you’re already using Hexagon tools in your workflow – a portable scan arm, for example, or the company’s machining software – then this should be a good match, offering additional features for Hexagon’s growing ecosystem.
Cracking copper additive
High-resolution metal 3D printing with the ability to scale is Holo AM’s goal. The company has quietly developed a system for copper end-use parts, such as heat exchangers, components for electric vehicles and complex 3D electrical interconnects.
Holo PureForm produces green parts from a metal slurry using a SLA-type method, before a standard metal injection moulding back-end process sinters the fully dense part.
While the initial focus has been on the production of copper parts, exciting in itself, capabilities for 3D printing stainless steel are already on the cards.
Next generation preprocessor for additive manufacturing
The Universal Build Manager application from HP’s Digital Manufacturing Software team may still be in beta, but it’s already clear that results are just as impressive as have been claimed.
In short, we’re talking quick, extensible and customisable. The tool is built to support additive at scale, stripping time out of the pre-processing, job-preparation stage and getting parts onto machines quicker than ever before.
This is also the first time that we’ve seen an application powered by Dyndrite’s technology. Execs at the start-up have made a lot of claims about how efficient its technology is. (We refuse to use their preferred term, “performant”.
But, as ever, the proof of the pudding is in the eating – so it was with some excitement that we got to take a look at the first publicly available integration of Dyndrite’s technology with HP’s system.
Vision of future AM
This start-up ticks all the boxes: MIT origins, big-name backers, and an extreme enthusiasm for using buzzy terms like ‘AI’ and ‘machine vision’. That said, Inkbit is a genuinely intriguing prospect.
In particular, the technology is reportedly able to output 8 materials in a single build. And the company’s keen focus on resin development raises the interesting prospect of multimaterial end-use polymer parts.
Backers like Stratasys and Ocado also see more to Inkbit than just marketing. The company’s proprietary vision system allows Vista to capture voxel-level 3D scan data of the print process at high speed, modifying each layer in real time for perfect prints across multiple systems.
Data translation for XR
Adoption of VR in the engineering world is growing faster than ever before, but the challenge of taking complex, heavy engineering CAD data and making it suitable for use in a virtual world remains tough.
With decades of experience in data translation for the engineering world, ITI has taken its legendary CADfix application and built CADfix Viz to help take native 3D engineering data, remove unneeded portions (such as small parts, inconsequential features and internal details), tessellate it at the level most appropriate for your use case, and export it in the lightweight format you need.
Software is often sold as having all the bells and whistles – but this is the opposite – it does one job and excels at it.
3D scan technologies are more accessible than ever, particularly as high-end technologies move down the food (and price) chain and become more accessible.
Alongside this, working with mesh-based data has become a more common activity for many.
There are a number of high-end ‘point cloud to CAD’ tools out there, but price-wise, these are out of reach for many and are often locked to the scanning hardware.
This is where KVS’s QuickSurface comes in. It’s capable, it’s powerful and it’s scanner-agnostic. In short, it will enable you to get analytic data out of mesh-based data without costing an arm and a leg.
It then gives you the results that your downstream processes need in terms of clean, tidy geometry
For designers, Lynx should be a HMD of interest. Instead of using a transparent display for AR, its launch R-1 headset opts for a video passthrough with minimal latency.
This gives you more control over the quality of overlaid graphics. With each pixel controlled, the scene can display more accurate colours and more opaque objects. The result is a greater sense of realism, while losing none of the real-world immersion.
On paper, the R-1 lacks the resolution of some HMDs in this space, but its lower price point ($1,499 ) and freedom of movement, along with a few other nice touches, may trigger some interesting discussions about using it in workflows where ultimate clarity is not the key driver.
Fighting waste with lasers
It’s estimated that in every SLS build, around 50% of the unsintered powder is wasted. Materialise has developed BlueSint to address the issue of plastic reuse.
Currently, shrinking occurs when PA12 powder cools between two consecutive sintering processes, leading to an unwelcome ‘orange peel’ surface effect. The usual remedy – adding more fresh powder to the mix – is simply not sustainable.
With a 3D printer with multiple lasers, Materialise BlueSint makes it possible to use 100% of the powder. One laser sinters the PA12; a second keeps the powder above a certain temperature threshold.
Because powder doesn’t cool between layers, shrinking is avoided.
Certification gives seal of approval
Cloud workstations have never been more relevant. The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the need to work from anywhere, seamlessly.
Microsoft Azure NVv4 cloud workstations are hot on price. This is made possible through Windows Virtual Desktop licensing, combined with 64-core AMD EPYC CPUs and AMD Radeon Instinct MI25 GPUs, which can be virtualised at a hardware level, so you only pay for the GPU resources you need.
Importantly, Microsoft now has a growing list of ISV certifications for NVv4, including Autodesk Inventor, PTC Creo and Siemens NX. Certifications are particularly important for enterprises, the very same firms most likely to invest heavily in Azure.
Hyper-complex geometry in a snap
The rise of additive has made previously difficult or even impossible geometry much easier to manufacture, but traditional 3D design and engineering systems still struggle with creating parts that offer true creative freedom.
nTopology’s implicit modelling platform supports the exploration of design possibilities like few others.
The company has built a system where applications go way beyond additive, helping anyone who is looking to create geometry based on algorithmically defined inputs, simulation or physical test data.
If nTopology can now make its system more friendly to the mainstream, a revolution could be on the horizon – let’s see where 2021 takes it.
Pro GPU for the masses
Earlier this year, we were blown away by the Nvidia RTX A6000, the first workstation-class GPU based on Nvidia’s ‘Ampere’ architecture. However, at a price close to $5,000, the 48 GB GPU is not for everyone.
Instead, we already have our eyes on the Nvidia RTX A4000, which will be available soon for under $1,000.
While it won’t deliver the same levels of 3D performance and hardware-accelerated ray tracing as its big brother, we expect a great deal from this 16 GB GPU.
We believe it should hit the sweet spot for designers and engineers who use design viz applications like KeyShot or Solidworks Visualize, alongside their bread-and-butter 3D CAD tools.
Fine detail scanning at lower cost
The Peel 2 3D scanner from Creaform/AMETEK spin-off Peel 3D impressed us greatly last year.
Peel’s now back with a dialled-in version, which brings the parent company’s knowledge and know-how in structured light scanning to the task of tackling smaller, higher detail parts.
The new Peel 2-S brings the resolution capturable down to 0.1mm. When combined with the Peel 2 CAD software, you’ve got a workflow to capture high-resolution scans, post-process and clean them up, and then build up your fitted surfaces and features – all in a single application.
Globally sourced production
Earlier this year, Protolabs acquired 3D Hubs, creating the largest global manufacturing service for custom parts.
After a year in which supply-chain issues heavily impacted product development and delivery, options for a bolstered distributed manufacturing service will be welcomed by many.
Protolabs’ range of injection moulding, 3D printing, CNC machining and sheet metal fabrication services are already well-known across the company’s markets in America, Europe and Japan.
Once you add to this mix the breadth of facilities offered by 3D Hubs’ partners, then your options for price, speed and manufacturing methods are significantly wider still.
Making complex models easier
PTC’s Creo is built on a set of technologies over four decades in the making – so many might dismiss the idea that innovation is possible in a product and community with such a long track record.
They’d be wrong. What PTC has managed to do is take stock of where it is at, pinpoint areas for improvement and then build something that doesn’t just bring Creo up to speed, but actually surpasses the state of the art.
Snapshots is a perfect example: this provides a quick insight into a model’s history and allows you to reuse any of the geometry from that history in just a couple of clicks.
Parasolid-based modelling on Mac
Shapr3D has been doing stellar work on its iPad-based 3D modelling system over the last year, introducing engineering drawings and more.
Recently, the start-up released a new variant of its system that runs on MacOS, taking advantage of both Intel and Apple Silicon when needed and built on the Parasolid kernel.
MacOS is a popular choice for many, particularly in the field of education, so it’s good to see greater choice for those looking for a native modelling system for the platform.
Binder jetting brilliance
Combining Xaar’s printhead technology with Stratasys’ increasingly manufacturing-focused machinery, the new H-Series has volume production in mind and HP’s MultiJet Fusion technology firmly in its crosshairs.
The binder-jetting H350 has clearly been designed to target some of the foibles of HP’s rival system: front and centre are same-direction powder and binder layering for stronger, more accurate parts; high throughput; and factory-ready MT Connect compatibility.
A reported ability to build with up to 23.5% part density, versus the 6% to 10% claimed by competitors, should see this 3D printer receive a warm welcome on factory floors.
Real time CMF exploration
The use of fabrics in the context of product design and engineering is rarely covered in our digital design tools, but Swatchbook has been working to make soft goods as well-integrated into the design workflow as rigid materials.
By working with fabric mills to provide accurate digital swatches that can be used in its collection management and visualisation tools, as well as pushed into the product viz workflow, the company is changing the game for many.
Its Swatchbook Mix application takes this wealth of data, combines it with live renders and delivers it on both the desktop and the iPad, making real-time experimentation with swatch data possible for the first time.
The enterprise is where it’s at for 3D printing right now. Ultimaker’s desktop 3D printers are decisively moving into that space with the introduction of new software subscriptions for professionals.
Ultimaker Professional is the lower-ranking tier of the two paid-for options, but offers a decent package of unlimited cloud storage, the ability to open CAD files in Cura (rather than .STL), plus some new and improved analysis and reporting tools.
Billed annually, based on the number of users and printers you’ll connect, it should prove of interest to anyone building out an in-house print farm, and signals the likely future of the brand in the enterprise-level additive manufacturing sector.
The HMD wearing the crown
Varjo has blown us away yet again with another high-resolution, low latency headset with over 70 ppd across a 115-degree field of view, and LiDAR depth of field.
An integrated eye tracker at 200 Hz, combined with built-in Ultraleap hand tracking, keep things slick, adding to the experience of its 90 Hz frame rate and custom lenses.
Compatible with Unity, Unreal and OpenXR, Varjo also boasts software integration for Autodesk VRED, Techviz (Catia, NX, Creo), and Mindesk (Solidworks), making it very much the leading HMD for designers.
Wacom finally get some serious competition
Since the dawn of time (OK, since the 1960s), drawing on a computer has relied on pen-based input. While Wacom has seen a number of competitors come and go, new start-up Xencelabs looks like it might be a serious contender.
Based on a familiar yet tweaked design, the Xencelabs launch product is a combination of pen/stylus and drawing tablet, a format with which many of us will be comfortable.
Alongside this is a small rectangular device, the Quick Keys Remote, that provides hot keys and shortcuts in a small form factor. It looks usable and configurable, thanks to the OLED display indicating what’s been assigned.