Thought Leadership

Additive Manufacturing in the Aerospace Industry – ep. 3 Transcript

By Nick Finberg

Welcome to the third podcast episode of the additive manufacturing and aerospace series, where we are continuing to learn from experts about additive technology, or 3d printing, and the role that innovative software plays in this process.

Our focus of this episode is Sintavia, a company that utilizes additive manufacturing to design and manufacture critical space, defense and aerospace parts. Our expert shares her insight on the impact that this approach is having on the aviation industry. As a global leader in aerospace parts manufacturing, Sintavia has joined forces with Siemens NX for the design and production of high-volume, high-value parts.

Ashley Eckhoff
Ashley Eckhoff, Marketing Manager for Siemens Manufacturing Engineering group, concentrating on Additive Manufacturing.

The moderator of this podcast episode is Ashley Eckhoff, Marketing Manager for Siemens Manufacturing Engineering group, interviewing Christina Kurth Tutt, Vice President of Sales at Sintavia LLC.

Listen to this third podcast or read the transcript below.

Read the transcript

Ashley Eckhoff: Hello everyone, and welcome once again to the Siemens Additive Manufacturing podcast. I’m your host, Ashley Eckhoff, and as always, our podcast is sponsored by the Thought Leadership team here at Siemens. If you haven’t listened to the two previous episodes from season 2, where I discuss additive in aerospace with Dale Tutt, I highly recommend that you have a listen to those episodes as well. But let’s get into our conversation today. We’re excited to be welcoming Christina Kurth, Vice President of Sales at Sintavia to the Siemens studio to continue our series of conversations about additive manufacturing in the aerospace industry and to talk about Sintavia’s role in helping aerospace companies achieve their additive manufacturing goals.

Christina Kurth
Christina Kurth, Vice President of Sales at Sintavia LLC.

Ashley Eckhoff: Thank you for joining us today, Christina. I’m really looking forward to discussing the role of additive manufacturing in the aerospace industry with you today. But before we get into all of that and dive into our discussion, would you mind introducing yourself to our listeners, maybe a brief description of your background and your current position at Sintavia?

Christina Kurth: Hi, Ashley. Thanks so much for having me on your podcast. I’m excited to share my perspective on additive manufacturing’s really important role in the aerospace industry with you and your listeners. Those of us in the industry like to say that aerospace is in our blood. And it was my grandfather who instilled the love of aerospace in me at a young age. We would watch the aircraft land at Pearson International Airport in Toronto and identify the airlines together. Growing up, my mom was also in the air and travel industry, so it was part of my day-to-day life. That said, the day when my parents took me to see the Saturn V rocket at the Kennedy Space Center was a turning point. That was the moment when I decided I wanted to study to be an astronaut. And then the journey to additive aerospace was natural after I graduated with the Bachelor of Aerospace Engineering Degree in 2009, and I began my career in Advanced Design at Bombardier in Toronto.

Ashley Eckhoff: Bombardier is an awesome company, and a great place to start an aerospace career. What did you do there?

Christina Kurth: I was responsible for clean sheet and derivative aircraft at Bombardier. And it was at this point that I came upon a problem that would stick with me throughout my career. I was exposed to technologies like topology optimization and was working on a cargo variant of the CRJ – now the MHI RJ – and I had topologically designed a new bracket to be used in the rollerball system. I was so proud to show my manager the organic shape and the improved strength-to-weight ratio and overall aircraft weight savings of this new bracket. I’ll never forget his expression when his first response was, “Great, but how in the world are you going to manufacture it?” Good question. At the time, the answer was to dumb it down and traditionally manufacture it. I was more than a little disappointed to learn that the software solution was out there, but the manufacturing capability wasn’t.

Ashley Eckhoff: So, I imagine that’s probably what led you into additive manufacturing.

Christina Kurth: Exactly. Over the next 10 or so years, the problem would stick with me throughout my career. It was when I was working as a sales engineer at Embraer Executive Jets that I heard about a local South Florida company that was at the forefront of applied additive manufacturing and I had to learn more. Sintavia was harnessing additive as the solution to this topological optimization problem specifically for the aerospace industry. To this day, we joke that this is when I heard the good news, and the rest is history.

Ashley Eckhoff: Cool. That sounds awesome. For our listeners who aren’t familiar with Sintavia, you mentioned a little bit, but Sintavia is company that has a large focus on additive manufacturing, specifically, I think in the aerospace industry. Maybe you can give us an introduction to Sintavia, the company, its history, and maybe what types of services you provide for customers today?

Christina Kurth: Sure, my pleasure. Our CEO Brian Neff is a third-generation aviation person himself. His grandfather was the vice president of maintenance at TWA, and his dad was actually in maintenance as well and a couple of roles in several airlines. He grew up with a knowledge of what it takes to put a part on an aircraft and the quality certification that goes into that part. Brian owns a jet engine repair facility and was visiting a competitor, MTU, in Germany when he was shown his first additive printer – the M270 – back in 2011. He describes it as looking like an old-fashioned copy machine with a microwave in the middle. Watching the laser melting consecutive layers of metal powder on a descending platform, he knew that this was going to revolutionize the aerospace industry. And he decided to devote the rest of his career to the industrialization of this technology specifically for the aerospace industry. So, Sintavia was founded in 2015 by Brian and wehave ever since been setting the stage for the future of aerospace manufacturing. The name, by the way, is a portmanteau of two words: sintering and aviation. Our vision is to design and additively manufacture a new generation of flight and launch vehicles. And our mission is to deliver critical systems that are lighter weight, better performing, and more sustainably produced via additive manufacturing. We now have over 100 team members working towards these goals at three locations. Our manufacturing facility with 32 printers, our lab and mechanical testing facility, and our MDT testing facility.

Ashley Eckhoff: That’s awesome. I didn’t know where the name Sintavia came from. That’s cool.

Christina Kurth: Yeah, I think it’s important. A lot of people say Sintavia and it’s actually sintering and aviation from the beginning.

Ashley Eckhoff: Excellent. I’ve got to actually sit down and talk with Brian about TWA. That’s interesting. My brother worked in the maintenance area of TWA for a while and while it still existed, so that’s interesting. Was there more you want to say there?

Christina Kurth:
I was just going to talk about our proprietary 3D design and manufacturing technology. We use it to focus on our main product categories, which are thermodynamics systems, advanced propulsion systems, and airfoils and aerostructures. For our aerospace, space, and defense customers. Our customers rely on us to design and print components within each category, both on time and on budget.

Ashley Eckhoff: Cool. That’s a very good synopsis – thank you. Here on the podcast, we’ve sort of spent the last couple of episodes talking with Dale Tutt, who’s one of our internal aerospace experts at Siemens. But one of the topics we covered is use cases for additive in aerospace. Now, of course, talking with Dale, he’s coming from a software perspective. But since Sintavia is a company that prints physical parts for the aerospace industry, I’m wondering what kinds of parts you see aerospace customers printing. Are there any use cases for additive that you see maybe taking hold in the aerospace industry with your particular customer base?

Christina Kurth: Sure, the differences between the software perspective and our use cases are definitely interesting. And since the software is what enables our digital manufacturing, it’s a great transition to this episode. At Sintavia, we’ve experienced our aerospace customers refining their use cases and even the type of parts they’re printing over the years. We catalog these parts into the three main product categories: thermodynamic systems, propulsion systems, and airfoils and aerostructures. So, first, thermodynamic systems. We consider thermodynamics and heat exchangers as “the killer application” for additive manufacturing. We design and manufacture parts like cold plates, chassis, manifolds, and even housings with integrated cooling systems. Obviously, poor traditional manufacturing yield is a key driver. I have had customers tell me that the high scrap rate has created a lot of expensive paperweights. Also, just like vehicles, the design for more electric aircraft such as the eVTOL industry necessitates increased flight cooling for electronics. Our defense customers are concerned about increasing aircraft heat signatures. Secondly, propulsion systems. This category encompasses thrust chamber assemblies, turbopumps, and thrusters. Aggressive new space launch schedules have encouraged the industry to utilize the iterative and fast turnaround nature of additive manufacturing to meet and exceed their design goals and deadlines. The defense industry is also responding to the missile arms race with China and Russia. They’re designing and manufacturing hypersonic missiles made possible using additive manufacturing.

Ashley Eckhoff: The third category was aero, right?

Christina Kurth: Yes. So, thirdly, and finally we categorize it together as airfoils and aerostructures, compressor blades, nozzle gate, guide wings, nozzle assemblies, and thrust reversers are a few examples of parts that Santavia manufacturers. The current OEM supply chains for these parts where customers are forced to do business with vendors on their no-bid list provide opportunity for additive manufacturing, presenting an alternative and improved solution. It’s also the answer for the lack of availability of obsolete parts. I remember walking past what we referred to as tooling graveyards at Bombardier and Embraer – obsolete tooling left to sit outside and rust in the rain and snow. When parts are needed for aircraft that are still in service, customers come to us for a cost-effective replacement supply chain that doesn’t rely on traditional manufacturing technologies.

Ashley Eckhoff: Yeah, I assume that part of the reason for that is that tooling just costs a ton of money. And so, with additive, you can kind of get rid of all those upfront costs for any of these parts that are on aircraft that are legacy aircraft. You don’t have to go and try to work up a tool again if the tool doesn’t exist, and that sort of thing, right?

Christina Kurth: Exactly. Or, if it’s sitting in a graveyard somewhere rusting.

Ashley Eckhoff: Awesome. What percentage of Sintavia’s business would you say is defense versus domestic versus space? I mean, I guess those are maybe the categories that I put things in and maybe you put them in different categories. But do you think that mix says anything about who in aerospace is adopting additive at this point in time?

Christina Kurth: Absolutely. The mix indicates the aerospace adoption rate. We call it defense, aerospace, and space, so that’s how we categorize our verticals. Currently, space is our largest customer and the fastest adopter by percentage, private spaceflight drives a new space or space race. We saw a couple of weeks ago Branson go up with Virgin Galactic, and then even yesterday – at the time we’re recording this podcast – we also saw Jeff Bezos and his crew of astronauts. So, we estimate, by 2022, this will still be the case. The ratio between aerospace space and defense will be 15 percent aerospace, 60 percent space, and 25 percent defense. But by 2029, we estimate aerospace gaining traction and the ratio to be 26 percent aerospace, 49 percent space, and 25 percent defense.

Ashley Eckhoff: So, it sounds like there’s a certain mix now where space is kind of taking the lead, but things will be maybe a little more even in a few years if I’m reading that right.

Christina Kurth: Yeah, exactly. We see aerospace catching up.

Ashley Eckhoff: So, how do the requirements from those customers differ – or maybe they don’t –between domestic, defense, and space applications or as you call it – aerospace and defense? Are the different customers printing different kinds of parts, and do they need different levels of, say, certification and testing?

Christina Kurth: Yes, Sintavia has been at the leading edge in developing this path to production qualification within these industries. The process does vary slightly by customer depending on mostly end uses. The scope is typically dependent if the end use is autonomous or piloted and crude. I’ll run through the general steps with you. First, the path to production begins with the standard process of corporate and facility approvals. Then the next steps are unique to additive. Machine qualification ensures the repeatability of the machine’s output properties and generally involves multiple specimen builds and testing. After the part is selected and proven out in development, part substantiation process data is generated by analyzing critical areas via destructive testing – often analyzing specimens cut out from the part itself. Part data, including non-destructive inspection reports, are also collected. These data packages are then approved by the type certificate holder prior to part approval for purchase in flight. This specific protocol is often co-developed between Sintavia and our customers. Sintavia’s unique ability to work with their customers on a specific protocol tailored to meet their needs comes from our team’s aviation background expertise, our unsurpassed quality management system, and our dedicated customer engagement.

Ashley Eckhoff: I think that Sintavia also does design work for certain aerospace part types. Can you tell me about those and why Sintavia is focused on those types of parts as good candidates for additive manufacturing?

Christina Kurth: Correct. Sintavia’s quality management team achieved our AS9100 Rev D Metal Additive Design and Development certification that’s enabled us to design parts that are lighter, cheaper, and quicker to manufacture than their traditional counterparts. For example, we’ve produced a heat exchanger that we’ve designed as a replacement part for a defense customer. Our heat exchangers are about 12 to 20 percent lighter and projected to be less expensive than traditionally manufactured versions, while still meeting all the technical requirements that come with the funds. There are many benefits of additive over traditional relating to heat exchanger production that are important. Primary among these is the ability to manufacture a single piece or monocoque design piece heat exchanger, printing both the core and housing as an integrated part at the same time. This technique allows designers to obtain internal dimensions in related operating improvements that are impossible to achieve using multi-component additive or traditional weld and braze approaches.

Ashley Eckhoff: Interesting. I’m not an aerospace person, per se, but I’ve definitely heard about the advantages of additive over some of those other processes you talked about there. Let’s talk a little bit about your production business. So, let’s say that I’m an aerospace company, and I’ve just designed the first part I want to print, can you walk me through maybe the process I’d go through with Sintavia? What kinds of people will engage with me? What’s the process for onboarding that customer, working with them on the design, the testing, the manufacturing? And maybe even what kinds of processes my part goes through before it’s considered appropriate for its end use for flight or whatever?

Christina Kurth: When I give a tour of the manufacturing facility here at Sintavia, I often trace the story of the part and I’ll run through it with you as well. So, the part story begins when the customer engages with us (our sales team) and we discuss the initial development of the part and engage our engineering experts to review that particular part’s design, the drying orientation, the datums, and any post-processing that’s associated with it. When everyone is aligned, then the process moves to our coding team for an initial quote created by our ERP system. And then once we get a PO, we then confirm the CAD for printing and introduce the client to their dedicated project engineer. At that point, the project engineer becomes the main liaison between the customer and the manufacturing stage of the part. They will go through a contract review and present results to the customer in a manufacturing readiness review, prior to printing and present lead time, in the form of a Gantt chart.

They also create a manufacturing router that will travel with the part. Depending on that part’s complexity, our additive engineers will prepare the part for printing by performing pre-deformation analysis, aligning the part on the build plate itself, and supporting it appropriately. The next step is printing in one of our three main additive manufacturing rooms, and then it will be extracted and de-powdered. We perform Nadcap accredited heat treat, support removal from the build plate, and surface finishing in-house in our post-process area on site. The powder testing and specimen tests are completed in parallel to this. And then once everything’s completed, our quality department creates a certification of conformance and we ship it to the customer. Lessons learned during this development parts initial manufacturing are then captured and improved to be applied for this production base. It’s important to note that during the development part process, our corporate facility approvals and our machine qualifications are typically ongoing in preparation for production. And then after the first production print substantiation and first article inspection, reports are created for certification. It is definitely a team effort.

Ashley Eckhoff: Awesome. I think I remember Brian telling me that the certification piece of paper at the end is maybe the most important part because without that, all you had was a paperweight. So, as you kind of alluded to, I think, Sintavia does more than just design and print parts. You also certify materials and test printed parts. Outside of just the piece of paper, why are those activities important to the AM process for aerospace and what techniques do you guys have to test and certify parts?

Christina Kurth: Yeah, we typically joke just going back to the Brian comment that the certification is sometimes heavier than the part itself. Validation of our design and printed hardware is one of the most important steps in the pathway to production and in-flight certification. So, there are a few main techniques we utilize in this process. Prior to and throughout the printing process, we validate the powder characteristics, and afterwards we validate the part through analyzing specimens against both our own internal and our customer specifications. Depending on the customer, we also can perform system types tests on site. Even before our first printer purchase, one of our first machines that we onboarded at Sintavia was our SEM microscope for ISO 17025 accredited lab facility. We understood that validating the powder to our internal and customer specs was absolutely essential to part validation after extraction from the printer. In our lab – which includes chemical analysis, morphology analysis, top density, and Hall Flow testing, we test the powder both upon after receipt of the powder after each sieve. Then after printing, we repair the specimens. We machine them if required and requested by the customer. We perform destructive testing such as fatigue and tensile testing that is Nadcap accredited. And then we perform metallographic evaluation, hardness testing, and failure analysis. Having this ability on site, expedites our qualification results and ensures a fast turnaround on the production phase. Again, ensuring our results meet the specifications. Some of our customers also require system-level tests of assembled parts. For example, we do low-pressure testing on-site and we definitely see this aspect of our business growing in the years to come.

Ashley Eckhoff: Oh, that’s interesting. I didn’t know you guys did that. Is that relatively new?

Christina Kurth: It’s onboarded as customers require. And, yes, we’re expecting to meet their needs and then grow accordingly as well.

Ashley Eckhoff: Awesome. Shifting focus just a bit here. Since I work for the software side of Siemens, what role do you see software playing in your business? And where does it fit into your additive manufacturing process?

Christina Kurth: Software is key to our day-to-day here at Sintavia. At the start of the process, we use an ERP system that integrates with our Customer Relationship Management tool, and then also our coding system. So, when we do receive RPO, our system generates an order, and then our additive engineers use Siemens NX for design and simulation. And we have also recently implemented Siemens Teamcenter for production database and revision control. Later this year, we’re going to be implementing an integrating Siemens Opcenter, which involves iPads at each manufacturing stage, shin, and virtual manufacturing routers. This will also integrate with our ERP system. And then once the part is complete, we invoice and ship using our ERP system as well.

Ashley Eckhoff: Awesome. So, it sounds like everything from the initial loading of the data and creation of the data all the way through manufacturing – if I’m hearing you correctly.

Christina Kurth: Every single stage. Absolutely.

Ashley Eckhoff: Awesome. We’ve talked about manufacturing. We talked about software. We talked about the aerospace industry. But just to pull the lens back a little bit and take up a somewhat wider focus for a moment. I’m sure you’re familiar with the Gartner Hype Cycle curve. Where would you say that aerospace additive manufacturing is on that curve? In the aerospace industry have we gotten past the heightened expectations and disillusionment? I know for your customers, you’re turning AM into a viable production technology, but I’m more thinking here about your view of the aerospace industry as a whole.

Christina Kurth: I’m going to describe the Gartner Hype Cycle for your listeners in a way that I’m used to in the aerospace world, so I’m going to equate it to technology readiness level. So, the curve begins at the innovation trigger. Let’s say a technology readiness level of one and it spikes to a peak of elevated expectations, TRL 3, and then steeply dives to a trough of disillusionment around TRL 5. Then, next recovers at TRL 6 on what is referred to as the slope of enlightenment and plateaus to a level of productivity or TRL 9. With respect to where the industry in the aerospace is on that curve, I’m going to answer how we respond to a lot of customers when they ask about price – it depends. Different aerospace manufacturers are at different TRL levels. In my past life, I witnessed the fly-by-wire TRL journey. Fly-by-wire replaces conventional mechanical flight controls with electronic signals to actuators at flight control surfaces. It’s less weight and presents a closed-loop safety and redundancy system.

Although fly-by-wire was first tested in the 1930s and the first non-experimental aircraft was flown in 1958, the Avro Arrow. The first airliner with digital fly-by-wire controls was the Airbus A320 in 1988. In 2009, 21 years later, I still witness subject matter experts argue whether the C Series, now the A220, fly-by-wire tier level was ready for flight or not. Thank goodness they chose to go forward with fly-by-wire. Similarly, additive manufacturing’s TRL journey is similar. Depending on what you consider the first metal additive manufacturing patent. Let’s say the patent owned by Raytheon Tech Corp for layers of powdered metal and the laser energy source in 1982. Additive is relatively new in the industry and is still getting comfortable. The good news for additive manufacturing today is that Sintavia and our new space defense and aviation customers are leading the way at full speed ahead proving the technology out and production plateau of TRL 9.

Ashley Eckhoff: Just to close things out today, I guess I’d like to whip out the old crystal ball, maybe get your perspective on the things that you think additive manufacturing will be used for in aerospace a few years from now. We mentioned a few use cases earlier in the episode here. But in your opinion, what are the potential uses for additive in aerospace that aren’t being realized today that you think might show some great promise for the future?

Christina Kurth: Oh, wow. Where do I start? The wonderful part of additive manufacturing is that if you can imagine it, you can make it happen. An Airbus 2050 plane concept design immediately comes to mind. It looks really weird and wonderful. I’ll try to describe it as best as I can; however, I also encourage your listeners to look it up online. The aircraft has a wide blended wing design that has a transparent body. If you’re sitting in the cabin, the ribs and stringers supporting the transparent membrane will look organic and natural. I think about this concept a lot. We’re not quite there yet with the size of our machines in additive, but I know that this is where the industry is headed. We’ll be able to make this weird and wonderful Airbus concept more sustainable and an efficient aircraft in the new normal. In a recent The Optimistic Outlook podcast with the CEO of Siemens USA, Barbara Hampton, and our CEO, Brian, he mentioned some more near-term realities that are enabled by additive manufacturing. Consider supersonic flight – a commercially viable supersonic flight from London to LA in three hours can only be done powered by additive engines. This is incredible. He then added that our new space customers are aiming for a 36-minute turnaround via launching into low Earth orbit and coming back down. Again, enabled through rocket engines additively manufactured. He also brought up an interesting perspective on Europe short-haul flights. Currently, Europe is in the process of outline flights such as Paris to Amsterdam. Regional jet manufacturers are responding by developing more electric aircraft. And the only way you can achieve the high-power density required to manufacture these electric engines is through additive. There are also a lot of launch and flight innovations occurring right now, for example, private spaceflight, astronauts, Mars rovers, space tourism, and eVTOL approvals. These clean sheet designs were designed harnessing the benefits of additive. Whether longer-term or near-term, there is no limit. I can’t wait to see what the next generation of engineer’s design that will become our next reality.

Ashley Eckhoff: Yeah, me too. That’s one of the great things about being in this field is that it’s kind of an open green field that there’s all this potential now that we’re all trying to find unique ways to utilize.

Christina: Exactly.  It’s awesome.

Ashley Eckhoff: Now, we’re talking specifically about additive in the aerospace industry today, but noting that Sintavia focuses mostly on the aerospace industry, have you ever considered applying your additive manufacturing knowledge to other industries?

Christina Kurth: It’s really easy to get distracted because there are so many cool applications for additive. But what’s funny is I’m myself from Bombardier and Embraer. Our VP of Engineering Pablo, he’s from Rolls Royce. Our CEO has a background in aviation. Our Quality VP and Operations VP, they’re from Utah and then Collins now. And so, we’ve done onesies and twosies for the automotive, for medical, and we just keep on coming back to aerospace because we’re the only ones who seem to have that thorough knowledge and understanding of the quality system that we can perform everything from printing to part certification to flight stamped hardware. So, yeah, we dabbled, and we’ve just always gone back to aerospace, and that’s what our core is.

Ashley Eckhoff: Ok, so it sounds like you have a team that’s uniquely built to service the specific needs of the aero industry and that’s awesome. So, where can our listeners find more information about Sintavia? Are there any upcoming webinars, events, or conferences where they can find you guys?

Christina Kurth: Yes, our marketing department has quite the lineup for the team in the upcoming months. Our Sintavia representatives will be at the upcoming military AM summit and tech showcase in Tampa at the end of July. And in the fall, we’ll be attending and participating at Rapid in the Chicago space tech expos and the ASDM International Conference in California. In Germany, we’ll be hosting the Additive Manufacturing Green Trade Association summit and exhibiting at Formnext. And at the end of the year, we also have AeroDef in California and the Defense Manufacturing Conference in Denver on our calendars.

Ashley Eckhoff: Sounds like you guys are busy.

Christina Kurth: Always.

Ashley Eckhoff: Awesome. Well, thank you, Christina, for being with us today to show your expertise and your insights about additive in the aerospace industry. Really appreciate you taking time away from what you all are doing at Sintavia to talk with us today.

And that pretty much does it for this episode of the Siemens Additive Manufacturing podcast.  I’d like to thank the Siemens Thought Leadership team for sponsoring this podcast, and to thank Christina Kurth from Sintavia once more for joining us.  Let us know if you’ve enjoyed this series of podcasts on additive in the aerospace industry and let us know what industry you’d like us to tackle next.  We would really appreciate the feedback.  In the meantime, you’ve been listening to the Siemens Additive Manufacturing podcast.  I’m your host Ashley Eckhoff, my sincere thanks for you being with us, and we will catch you all next time.

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