Thought Leadership

Podcast Transcript: Additive manufacturing – an industrial revolution (Part 3) – materials solutions

By Blake Snodgrass

In a recently published third podcast of our new additive manufacturing podcast series, we were joined by Tad Steinberg, manager of Siemens Energy’s Additive Manufacturing (AM) business development, and Trevor Illston, Chief Technical Officer for Materials Solutions Ltd, a print service shop that Siemens acquired in 2016.

Tad Steinberg
Tad Steinberg, Manager of Siemens Energy’s Additive Manufacturing (AM) business development.

Siemens creates solutions for customers, training, identification, application of engineering requirements and the communication of additive manufacturing realities. With the recent opening of the Siemens Additive Manufacturing Application Center (AMAC) in Orlando, Tad leads the Americas’ business development activities. 

In the transcript, below, Tad and Trevor discuss aerospace and defense. Please read or listen to the podcast.

Read the Transcript

Ashley Eckhoff: Gentlemen, each of you works for Material Solutions, the division of Siemens that prints high-quality metal parts. Can you describe to us in a little more detail what it is you print and who you print it for?

Tad Steinberg: Sure. I’ll take a high-level stab at it. And then, Trevor, you can go into a little bit more of the detail.

Trevor Illston: Yeah.

Tad Steinberg: So, our target industry is aerospace and defense. That doesn’t mean we don’t do other things, such as motorsports, oil and gas, energy and those kinds of areas as well. So, we really focus on those areas, and additive manufacturing is a large venue that is an armchair in what we do with our gas turbines.

Trevor Illston: A large part of what we do is supplying parts into industrial gas turbines as well – the Siemens side of our business. But we can use that to build on, in supplying other industries because there is a commonality between the materials and the types of geometry between industrial gas turbines and aerospace, including gas turbine applications.

Ashley Eckhoff: So, you guys have customers that hand you a part and you print and help customers with the design and how to make their designs print correctly. Do you guys have services? Things like that as well?

Trevor Illston: Yes, we have a broad range of services and offerings. So, on one end of the scale, it’s kind of made-to-print; therefore, it’s supplied with a model and a drawing and we’re asked to print it and meet the specifications. On the other end of the scale, we’re taking customers through the full journey of learning about additive manufacturing: what works for the process, what doesn’t work for the process, how to design the part to suit the process and get the most for their application. Then we take it all the way through to the printing. However, we offer services all the way along, including consultancy, design and engineering services, and all the way through to the printing.

Ashley Eckhoff: Cool, what makes the printing you do unique? What puts you above other companies that are printing parts as well?

Trevor Illston: I suppose it comes down to the application areas that we’re targeting. There are very high-performance and demanding application areas. So, this also requires very high-performance materials with the best quality that is achievable through this process. Therefore, this is the starting driver for developing the offerings that we have at Material Solutions. Moreover, it’s backed up by quality standards. You know, one of our first customer markets was aerospace. So, we built the company around meeting aerospace-level quality requirements and that’s given us a unique position in the market in terms of our offering.

Ashley Eckhoff: Cool. You guys mentioned motorsports. They’re always frustrating to me because I’m a Formula One fan. I always want to see Formula One parts and you guys can never show them to me.

Trevor Illston: Absolutely. Unfortunately, the interesting stuff is sometimes very difficult to show.

Ashley Eckhoff: Yeah. So, you guys are now owned by Siemens Power Generation. I know you print a lot of their parts, right? Can you can talk a little bit about what makes a power generation part different than parts from aerospace, automotive or some other industry?

Also, in this podcast series, we’ve been talking quite a bit about innovation and how additive promotes that. Are there any innovative ways you’ve seen your customers using additive? Can you talk about some of the unique characteristics you’ve seen on the parts you’re printing?

Trevor Illston: There have been many ways that people have been innovating with parts. And I suppose one we see most is for gas turbines and the engine uses of advanced cooling in their components. It’s a complex process, using novel cooling designs that are now being optimized. You can’t do this conventionally. Additive improves the performance of the components considerably, in terms of emissions or efficiency of the engines. So, it opens opportunities to push the performance boundary of the components.

Ashley Eckhoff: Cool. Have you seen anything like assembly consolidation or light-weighting?

Trevor Illston:  Absolutely. So, a reduction in weight is obviously very important for aerospace applications. There have been huge changes in how people are comfortable with designing parts for AM. Previously, these would look very similar to something that was machined. However, now the parts are looking very different – optimized for weight reduction. Also, everybody can see the big benefits of integrating multiple parts together and consolidating them, which takes out the interfaces and significantly simplifies the manufacturing supply chain while reducing the weight of the part through consolidation.

Ashley Eckhoff: Yeah, I think what we’ve seen is that many times the assembly consolidation happens because of the design complexity that additive manufacturing allows. Right? So, when you’re machining a part, you must have a simple geometry because you need access for machine tools. But when you can, you can place a little bit of material in a specific spot in 3D space, which frees you up to make very complex parts, while also enabling the assembly code consolidation that we’re seeing with our customers.

Trevor Illston: Yes, very much so!

Ashley Eckhoff: You guys also talked about process and certifications. In aerospace and maybe medical and other industries that require it for high-quality parts, high tolerances and low failure rates, it seems to be an arduous process. I assume you handle that sort of thing. Do you have process certifications or traceability of some sort to report to you and your customers when they order a part? Also, what kind of certification process is necessary for these industries?

Trevor Illston: Yeah. Obviously, it depends on what the customer requires and the standards that we’re working towards. But when we deliver a part there’s usually a pack of information which captures all the process certificates, and then that controls the manufacturer of the part bit from the additive side, including the heat treatment, non-destructive, testing, inspection and more. And it allows us to provide full traceability to the parts we deliver so we can trace it back to the machine used, or to the specific batch of powder, and what recycle number that powder has been through. So, with these sorts of industries, along with the provenance of the parts and the paperwork that go with it, they are almost as important as the parts themselves.

Ashley Eckstoff: Cool. Yeah, I think I’ve heard that echoed before, where people say for these industries that are specific about part quality and things like that, that the certificates are critical – and without them the part is kind of worthless.

Trevor Illston: Yes.

Tad Steinberg: I’m going add something to that as well. The other half of that is that the part traceability goes back to not only the partner material, but the process, the printer serial number and all the things that go into making up the part from a materials perspective. All of this must be considered for repeatability.

Ashley Eckhoff: Right, and that’s a difficult process to track, I would assume. I’m sure you guys have gone through a whole learning process of figuring out how to make that something that you can assure to your customers, right?

Trevor Illston: Yes, and it’s something that we’ve been working on over the years to get to the point of confidently tracing back every single part that we’re delivering. So, we have our MRP system, which controls the manufacturing of the components and everything else. Also, all the materials that are used and the full routing for the manufacturer of the components are tracked and traced within that MRP system.

Ashley Eckhoff: So, getting back to the customers you work with: when you talk to them, what are the reasons they’re saying that they’ve gotten into additive? Is it the need to innovate? Is it because of certain characteristics that additive gives their parts that they don’t get with other manufacturing types? What are you hearing as to why companies are adopting additive?

Tad Steinberg: So, I have seen a lot of activity on the business development side. So, it really depends on their journey. Therefore, depending on the customer, I ask them where they’re at in their journey and then this shapes my understanding of where they’re at from an additive perspective. I’ve got customers that say, “We need to get into additive because our management says we’re falling behind the curve.” There’s usually a rude awakening. 

Other customers will say, “We’re tired of our supply chain and need an alternative.” Or another customer might be at a performance impasse. They’re at a plateau in traditional manufacturing and need more, so they want to explore. So, we’re finding several different reasons as to why they want additive manufacturing. However, when people are needing a price improvement on our per-part cost quantity, the answer is not usually additive, but some other method to reduce costs and increase throughput.

Ashley Eckhoff: Are you guys finding that you need to educate customers about the possibilities of additive or are they aware of what’s possible these days?

Tad Steinberg: As I said before, depending on their journey, when you are talking with a new or potential customer, and you bring up a particular part or issue that they’re having, like tooling, you can very confidently say “we can solve that problem with an additive by this means.” Then you see their eyes light up, and the wheels start turning and synapse are starting to fire, and they’re really thinking, “Oh, if it can do this, it can do this and this.” And it’s going to not only increase or improve, it’s going to be better for the entire process or whatever it might be. So, yes, there’s a lot of educating. But again, it depends on where they’re at in their journey. Some people just need you to do X or Y, so it comes down to orientation or things that you don’t have to think about. Or, it could require a non-traditional approach. Trevor, do you have insights?

Trevor Illston: I would agree with that. Generally, the level of education that we’re having to start from with customers has improved massively. So, there is a better understanding about the technology outside than what existed in the early days of additive manufacturing. Usually, it’s more about the details of the process than the generic potential for the process.

Ashley Eckhoff: Well, it’s interesting to hear you guys talk about the additive journey, because those are the exact words we use when we talk to our customers. It’s where they are in their journey and, like you said, it seems like on the software side, where we try to get to this point with our customers where you can almost visibly see the lightbulb go on above their head, right? Or you can see that they get it. They understand what we’ve been talking about, and they’re excited about the possibilities.

 It used to be that we had to do a lot of talking and convincing to get to that point, but these days it seems like people are coming to the table with more knowledge. We are getting much deeper into the conversation faster – which is nice. But, in talking about changes taking place over the course of time we’ve all been in additive in the changing industry over the past few years, has anything really surprised you? Anything you didn’t expect?

Trevor Illston: In the very early days, what saw a reluctance for anybody to change their design to suit the process because there was skepticism about the ability of the process to meet their requirements. So, I think one of the things that surprised me most is once you’ve got people to understand the technology, they are willing to change their designs once they grasped the design aspect of it with both hands to make the most of it. That’s one of the things I find most surprising and actually very good, because that’s where you get the benefit from the technology.

Ashley Eckhoff: Yeah, that’s interesting. That’s a point I’d like to explore. So, how do you guys feel about design? It seems that if you’re really going to bring the most out of the additive process, there’s the manufacturing side of things, right? We’ve got these hardware companies that are working really hard to make their machines as efficient as possible, but if you’re going to make the parts work as well as they need to, it seems like there’s a lot that has to be done on the front-end to make it work for additive. Are your customers aware of what needs to be done or are you guys still hand-holding and helping them through that process?

Trevor Illston: Again, I think we see quite a range. We have some customers that are very sophisticated in their design and how to apply it to additive manufacturing, while others are at the beginning of that journey. But I suppose one of the things that we are adding to that is not just about design. For the final use, it’s designed for the manufacturing process as well. So, there are things that you need to put into the design to simplify the manufacturing and make it cost-effective in meeting the performance targets for the final product. This is another area where we are educating our customers.

Ashley Eckhoff: Yes, that has always been true, but we kind of forgot about it. If you’re making an injection molded part, you must have a draft so you can extract it from the mold, right? That’s a design element that’s required for the manufacturing. But those things became so commonplace that we forgot about them until additive came about, and then it’s like, “Oh, we have to learn a whole new set of interesting design tweaks to fit this new process and get the most out of it.”

Trevor Illston: Yes. There are design rules. They are just very different from conventional manufacturing design rules.

Tad Steinberg: And just to add one more observation: I can see a differentiation between internal and external customers. So internal to Siemens Energy, is the design for additive – I won’t call it commonplace, but it’s more commonplace than I’ve seen elsewhere with groups or companies that don’t have a key understanding, or a vested go-forward plan, with additive in mind. Therefore, it seems that internal to Siemens Energy, we have a group that’s dedicated to only additive design. Hence, the education, from that perspective, is quite good with a snowballing effect in accepting and grasping a what additive as to offer. Then other groups start to embrace that, whether it be motorsport or other aerospace companies outside of Siemens, right? I think you’re seeing more of that, again, depending on where they’re at in their journey.

Ashley Eckhoff: Yeah, so this is something that I think Siemens did that was interesting, and they did a good job of it. When you’re coming into Siemens and you’re a designer – you’re making parts – I think, from what I understand, you’re required to take two classes on additive. I think one is a basic class and another a bit of a deeper dive. This kind of gives you the basis for the additive thinking you’re going to need when designing parts that are eventually going to be printed. Also, they were not afraid to invest money in research. They bought into the potential of additive early on, before a lot of other companies did so. They basically said, “Let’s pour some money into this. Let’s figure this out. Let’s make it really work for us, and let’s wrestle all these issues with the process and the designs.” They have a really nice research group that knows a lot about what makes additive sing, and I think those are two things they did early on that really helped.

So, you guys have been around since 2006?

Trevor Illston: Yes, we started out in 2006.

Ashley Eckhoff: So, 2006, and then ten years later, you were bought by Siemens and you have expanded since then. There’s a new facility in the UK and a facility in the US, correct?

Trevor Illston: Yes.

Ashley Eckhoff: Is that just new capacity? Did you also add new capabilities with those facilities? What was your purpose for expansion?

Trevor Illston: It was multi-fold. We expanded in the UK to create new production capacity for Siemens products – we needed extra space. But we also took the opportunity to add in new capabilities to our operation as well. So, we’ve got machines to develop offerings in new materials that we hadn’t been doing before. Specifically, we added lightweight alloys like aluminum and titanium. And we’ve also got new capabilities with the complete manufacturing chain. So, there are CNC machines and non-destructive testing and inspection. Tad, do you want to talk about the US expansion as well?

Tad Steinberg: Yes. We know that the US is a high-tech manufacturing sector, and there is the ability to service customers in the US that may be challenging to serve in other parts of the world. So, that was one of the main drivers to be able to service US customers, whether it’s defense-related or energy-related through the Department of Energy or Department of Defense.

We brought a contingent of material solutions to the US. Also, we have an individual that ran printers and was part of the Material Solutions group since the 2006-2008 timeframe. This person runs our operations here in the US. Also, we have a small core team: two printers with a third printer to be added late this year for dedicated different materials. We are obviously servicing the Department of Energy, Department of Defense and other internal-governmental needs, but we’ve also found that manufacturing, when done locally (internal or external), often snowballs into additional work based on capabilities.

Ashley Eckhoff: So, I guess we’ll be looking for an expansion in the US here soon as well. Right?

Tad Steinberg: I think it’s on our current plan, but nothing’s solid. That’s more of a strategic decision going forward.

This is the third podcast transcript in this series on additive manufacturing. A continuation of this conversation will posted in a fourth podcast broadcast.

For more information:
Listen to the third podcast in this additive manufacturing series to learn more about the topics discussed in this blog, including designing for additive manufacturing (DfAM), the differentiation of internal and external customers, and the future of materials solutions.

You can access this podcast via AppleStitcherSpotifyCastboxTuneIn or Google.

Also, listen to podcast01 and podcast02 in this series.

Siemens Digital Industries Solutions Software, through its Xcelerator portfolio, provides a breadth of simulation skills to help engineers with many capabilities, including simulation for build orientation, optimization and macro and mesoscale process simulation.

About our experts:
Tad Steinberg  Manager of Siemens Energy’s Additive Manufacturing (AM) business development team and more than 20 years of aerospace experience.

Trevor Illston – Chief Technical Officer for Materials Solutions Ltd

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