Additive MES software contains many useful features covering aspects of the entire AM workflow, brought together within a single interface.
These features can help businesses organize their value chain, from order management to automated machine scheduling. They can enable end-to-end workflow automation, allowing users to track parts across the factory floor and beyond, and they can provide detailed analytics on machine performance, material usage, and other metrics.
Most additive MES solutions offer broadly similar core features. However, some provide rare or unique capabilities, and some focus on particular applications or end-users.
This guide looks at the main features of additive MES software and presents a comprehensive selection of currently available additive MES solutions. The basics of Additive MES (what it is and who it’s for) and key benefits of additive MES are covered in separate articles.
Note from the editor: The AM software landscape is quite complex and there is no standard MES solution. Most developers refer to MES as a truly end-to-end solution for the entire AM workflow, while others may consider that MES only handles production tracking. In this article, we will refer to all of the listed options as Additive MES, though each of them has its own subtleties.
Additive MES software solutions 2021
|Additive MES software||Orders||Part/file analysis||Instant quotes||Planning||Material mgt*||Nesting||Post- processing||Quality mgt*/ inspection||Tracking/ traceability||Analytics|
This table represents a comprehensive overview of available Additive MES solutions today.
Details about each type of feature are provided below.
✓ : Included
+ : Available with an extra module
– : Unavailable at the time of publishing this article
Main features of additive MES software
Before we dive into a bit more detail regarding each AM workflow software from the list, let’s take a look at common features (or skip to the overview!).
The ability to process and organize orders is the backbone of MES software since all other processes are linked to the particular order being processed.
Order management may involve data entry, communication of order data between departments, and the assignment of printing technologies (e.g. resin 3D printing) or materials (e.g. metal 3D printing) to a given order.
Job costing functions are included with some additive MES solutions. These may include the automatic calculation of project costs (based on time, material usage, etc.) and the generation of instant quotes, which can be especially useful for 3D printing service bureaus.
Although less common than other features, some file preparation tools like printability analysis, topology optimization, and support generation are included with some MES packages.
Production can be managed by scheduling jobs to different AM systems based on machine availability, materials, job priority, and other factors. If the MES software is fully integrated with the machine hardware, it may also perform fleet management (cloud 3D printing), controlling multiple machines directly and enabling autonomous manufacturing.
Production planning may include advanced features like orientation optimization or nesting, which fits multiple parts onto a single build platform to maximize efficiency.
Tools for managing materials are included with some MES software. These tools may include tracking of on-site material containers, automatic selection of materials for orders, or automatic reordering of materials based on inventory data.
If integrated with AM hardware, additive MES software may also enable real-time observation of a printer’s powder, resin, or filament levels.
MES software with a nesting feature can calculate the most efficient way of fitting multiple parts on a print bed, or across several print beds. This has the dual benefit of maximizing throughput while minimizing energy costs. This sample comparison from Hawk Ridge Systems perfectly illustrates just how much nesting can make print jobs more efficient:
Post-processing is one of the main pain points in AM and is perhaps the biggest obstacle to scaling AM production, so automating and scheduling the many steps and machines involved (sintering, depowering, resin removal, etc.) can be as important as the 3D printing itself.
For highly advanced Industry 4.0 workflows, post-processing management may also involve the automated removal of printed parts from the print bed and their distribution to other workstations via pick-and-place robots and/or conveyor belts.
Suppliers of additive MES solutions define quality management or quality analysis in different ways. Some AMES software packages provide quality management by integrating directly with quality control hardware like an automated metrology 3D scanner.
Others focus on the ability to monitor processes in real-time, like layer-by-layer monitoring via artificial intelligence and cameras (e.g. Addiguru, winner of the formnext 2020 startup challenge).
Manufacturing execution software may also take a Failure Modes and Effects Analysis (FMEA) approach, identifying where errors may potentially occur in the future.
Tracking and traceability
All additive MES software packages offer some degree of part traceability throughout the AM workflow. This may involve the creation of barcoded tracking sheets and stickers that employees can scan to mark a part’s progress across the factory floor.
Tracking information can also be archived indefinitely to provide a footprint of a part’s history. This information can be analyzed if, for example, a part goes missing or becomes defective. Traceability is important for 3D printed part certification.
Manufacturing execution software helps manufacturers move to data-led production by compiling and analyzing data about every step of the AM workflow.
Comprehensive analytics tools, including auto-generated production reports, can identify and eliminate bottlenecks in the AM workflow or devise entirely new production strategies.
Other potentially valuable features of AMES software include:
- Software integration: MES software may offer smooth integration with CAD software, 3D printing file preparation software, ERP software, or PLM software.
- AM simulation: Advanced suites may offer additive manufacturing simulation software tools which go beyond basic printability analysis and take into account detailed material and environmental conditions.
- Shipping and logistics: Tracking and traceability may go beyond the factory floor and integrate with shipment partners for door-to-door part tracking.
Overview of the best MES software for AM
3dTrust is an additive MES software package developed by the German company of the same name. Originally, it was intended as a tool for distributed manufacturing.
In addition to standard features like order management and production scheduling, 3dTrust offers a dedicated powder management feature for laser sintering AM systems.
The software is also available in two formats: a fully cloud-connected version for seamless connectivity, and a fully local version connected via ethernet cables that may be preferable for high-security applications.
Based in Germany, software company 3YOURMIND has developed a three-part software suite that includes MES, Product Lifecycle Management (PLM), and Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software.
Its MES package includes features like production scheduling — with automatic schedule recommendations based on dates and priorities — and auto-generated production sheets with QR codes to facilitate tracking.
Comprehensive analytics tools allow the user to see which processes and workflows are most productive and to help the user make data-driven business decisions.
UK company AMFG markets an end-to-end AMES solution covering everything from printability analysis to post-processing control.
AMFG offers tailored solutions for different AM users: end-use part manufacturers, spare part manufacturers (who benefit from a digital part catalogue), rapid prototyping companies, and 3D printing service bureaus (who can use detailed RFQ management).
Key features include order management, production scheduling, traceability, and detailed analytics.
Philadelphia-based software company Authentise offers two MES software packages: one for OEMs and another for printing service bureaus.
Both suites aim to increase connectivity and productivity with features like workflow automation and detailed analytics. The OEM package provides a digital parts library and quality analysis, while the service bureau version focuses on customer-oriented features like transparent pricing.
Purchasable extensions include an automatic quoting module, file analysis module, and nesting module for print bed optimization.
New York company Link3D has developed an operating system and customizable AMES software solution compatible with third-party enterprise systems.
Link3D offers a modular AM workflow solution split into five modules: Order Entry and Costing, Production Planning, MES, Quality Management, and Data Analytics.
Purchasing the entire solution unlocks features like automatic quotations, production scheduling, end-to-end tracking, quality management, and versatile analytics. The individual MES module focuses on tracking and traceability.
Materialise, the popular on-demand AM service provider and software developer based in Belgium, has developed a comprehensive AMES software solution for manufacturers and service bureaus.
Materialise Streamics is a modular package with features like production scheduling, machine monitoring, and automatic labeling for part tracking, in addition to advanced features like automatic nesting and post-processing management.
The MES integrates seamlessly with Materialise Magics, the company’s software for build preparation and STL editing, and other modules from Materialise.
Oqton is a San Francisco–based company whose FactoryOS MES software is a comprehensive solution encompassing advanced design features (like topology optimization) and quality control features (like 3D scanner or CMM integration).
The platform also includes standard features like part scheduling and tracking and can be customized for different industry verticals.
Although packed with production and analysis tools, FactoryOS leaves out some ERP-adjacent features like quote generation.
AM-Flow is a full-scale Industry 4.0 solution for powder bed AM. It combines proprietary hardware and software and comprises sortation conveyor belts, picker robots, packing tools, and more.
The AM-Flow solution is built around 3D shape identification and machine learning technology that can automatically sort and inspect 3D printed parts coming off the print bed.
Software company Dyndrite has developed an accelerated geometry kernel that enables customers to build tailored MES solutions from scratch. The company lists former Autodesk CEO Carl Bass among its key investors.
The Dyndrite Kernel can be used by OEMS and contract manufacturers.
LEO Lane (LEO stands for “Limited Edition Object”) of Israel has developed a Software-as-a-Service solution with a focus on cloud-based distributed additive manufacturing (DAM), allowing companies to scale up their distributed AM efforts while securely protecting IP.
Features include real-time tracking and real-time production data, enhanced security, and simplified integration with existing systems.
MakerOS is a suite of online collaboration tools for professional makers and small 3D printing services. As a “business operating system”, it focuses on the accounting and inventory side of the production workflow rather than 3D printer management.
Features include order management, instant quotes, custom invoicing, and inventory management. MakerOS also provides an Online Client Portal that lets customers follow the progress of their orders.
Additive MES pricing may depend on factors like the number of users, factory size, number of machines, and optional/modular features. As such, it is usually necessary to request a quotation from MES software vendor, even for a turnkey solution.
Many suites are licensed on a Software as a Service (SaaS) subscription basis with a monthly or annual fee, which may range from a few hundred dollars per month to several thousand.
Not all MES solutions are compatible with all 3D printers, so it is important to investigate machine compatibility before purchasing an MES solution. Some hardware manufacturers marker closed systems to ensure users buy their proprietary software.
However, machine integration is improving thanks to industry protocols like OPC-UA, MTConnect, and umati, all of which facilitate communication between systems.