Additive manufacturing has certainly gotten a lot of press over the years. In the supply chain space, the idea that inventory costs could be slashed by committing to additive manufacturing has been touted. In manufacturing, a common idea is that additive manufacturing can create more sustainable products by not lathing away materials that are wasted. But reality is beginning to catch up with rhetoric. Siemens work in this area is one proof point for this.
Siemens, as both a provider of design and manufacturing engineering software and as an industrial manufacturer, is in a unique position to help lead the industrial additive manufacturing revolution. To be effective, it’s role is not just to develop tools, but to distil the idea of additive manufacturing from a nebulous notion of design and manufacturing freedom down to, what I would call, a set of principles. These Principals are to be used as guides to drive strategy, which, for Siemens PLM, means the development and marketing of its suite of PLM tools, but for its customers (including the other Siemens businesses), could mean disruptive innovation with additive manufacturing.
It became apparent during Siemens’ Additive Manufacturing Tour, which took place during the final two days of Hannover Fair, that Siemens strategy around the technology has crystalized. From my perspective, the messages delivered during the event could be broken down into three categories
Concept: Siemens perception of the additive manufacturing technology and industry, and furthermore, its role in that ecosystem.
Quintessence: The iconic Additive manufacturing stories that are being marketed to the world, and how they are achieved.
Reality: The hurdles of AM adoption that organizations are experiencing today, and how they are being handled.
In his opening presentation, Andreas Saar, VP Manufacturing Solutions and Additive Manufacturing Program Lead, made two points that resonated as themes throughout the two-day tour and are, in my opinion, the two most important “principals” for the growth of AM. The first is that additive manufacturing requires a change in mindset. To reimagine products, to rethink business, and to reinvent manufacturing is not just a matter of acquiring a new set of tools, but an issue of education throughout an entire organization. The second is that without digitalization additive manufacturing is not possible. Using the Siemens vernacular, additive manufacturing is a perfect poster-child for the “digital thread” concept. It is the data, flowing through CAD, CAE, and CAM software, and perhaps a market platform, that connects a design idea to the manufactured part.
Bob Jones, EVP of Global Sales, Marketing and Services, made two analogies that echoed these principals and helped to cement them in my mind for the remainder of the tour. He first compared additive manufacturing to the “Solow Productivity Paradox”. In the 1980’s during the rapid development of computer power and IT investment, companies experienced a perceived discrepancy between the measure of IT investment and growth in productivity. This discrepancy was theorized to be the result of lags due to learning adjustment, mismanagement of the technology, and mismeasurement of the inputs and outputs. The implicit warning being that despite the disruptive potential of additive manufacturing, successful adoption requires proper education and, furthermore, patience. The second comparison was made between additive manufacturing and electricity. Primarily, that the discovery and generation of electricity had little impact on the world until the electric grid was constructed. With its recently announced Additive Manufacturing Network, and suit of digitally integrated tools, Siemens is on a mission to similarly democratize additive manufacturing by delivering capabilities via the digital thread.
As part of the tour, Siemens provided several examples of products they had developed internally and with partners. These are, in a way, pilot projects for the whole industry, and are important for the exploration of the technology but also for the development and testing of the Siemens end-to-end solutions.
The most compelling example, in my opinion, was the gas turbine burner displayed at the Siemens Hannover booth. At the left end of the display was the conventional burner made of 13 components, 18 welds, and a thermal barrier coating, the sum of which requires a 26-week lead-time. At the right end of the display sat the redesign part made with EOS powder bed fusion technology: a single integrated part with no need for thermal barrier coating and a 3-week manufacturing lead-time.
The display in-between the two burners, a row of monitors, told the story of the digital thread connecting the new design to its final construction. There were two aspects of this story that I found to be significant. The first is that Siemens has addressed one of the big gaps that I saw at last year’s Hannover fair which was a lack of process simulation capabilities. For the burner, Siemens used its new simulation technology to analyze the build path and determine which areas of the part were susceptible to overheating and warping during manufacturing. The second is that the CAD, CAE, and CAM work all took place within the NX environment.
Not every project is going to be as exciting as the examples put on display at Hannover Fair, and very few companies will have the internal expertise to execute AM initiatives straightaway. So, on the second day of the tour, we stepped out of the meeting room and left the fairground to explore what was really happening in the world.
Our first stop was the newly opened Siemens Additive Manufacturing Experience Center. As part of addressing the issue of education, consulting will play a major role in accelerating adoption of AM. At the Experience Center, Siemens displays a comprehensive beginning to end additive manufacturing story, similar to but more general than the one shown at Hannover Fair. They also have an operating DMG Mori hybrid additive machine as well as a Stratasys Robotic 3D Demonstrator. Siemens explained there are five action areas they are targeting with their consulting service to accelerate adoption.
Understanding + Ideation
Defining + Piloting
Our second destination, and the finale of the tour was the Toolcraft manufacturing facility outside Nuremberg, where the company recently built an AM center equipped with ten industrial powder bed fusion systems. Here it became clear that companies who have invested in AM are confronting unique challenges in uncharted territory. For Toolcraft, these challenges include developing internal quality control standards for incoming material and finished part inspection and developing an environment control system to maintain a safe working atmosphere. These are all serious concerns that are essential to the industrialization of additive manufacturing but are often too deep in the weeds to be addressed in broader discussion. Toolcraft also explained that in many cases additive jobs require more extensive work with their clients to optimize designs, and in some cases they’ll re-design the part to avoid AM all together. Despite the complexity of AM operation, Toolcraft has a vision for the future of additive manufacturing and they are homing in on it.
An Additive Manufacturing Takeaway
The concepts around additive manufacturing are becoming better understood every day. The software tools to achieve industrial additive success are being made available by companies like Siemens and the need for education is being addressed. However, there is still plenty of nitty-gritty work and standard practices to be developed for factory floor operations. With that said, all these things are happening now, and they appear to be speeding up!