The metal additive manufacturing market is currently thriving, with growing adoption across various high-profile industries and healthy investments. It is not by accident that the technology is gaining prominence and seeing such growth: metal AM companies are working hard to bring industrial-grade metal AM machines to market and to continually improve their products and services. Among them is Additive Industries, an innovative Dutch company that has built up a solid reputation in the metal AM space thanks to its modular, large-format PBF MetalFAB platform. We caught up with the company’s CEO, Ian C. Howe, to talk about what Additive Industries has already achieved, its future plans and how it fits into the broader metal AM segment.
Howe, who was appointed as CEO in April 2021, has extensive experience in high-tech industries, having worked at Oerlikon Group as well as Höganäs AB of Sweden and GKN Group UK. As Howe explains it, his passion is providing solutions that meet customers’ needs and deliver business growth for shareholders. “I’m always excited to work in technology growth stories,” he says. “That is what is personally satisfying for me.”
Howe was first introduced to additive manufacturing during his tenure at Höganäs AB, where he worked for 17 years. “I led projects for Höganäs AB on how to enter the AM market since their view was to develop powders and materials for additive manufacturing. That was between 2010 and 2012,” he says, further explaining that he went to focus on other sectors afterward. At the time, the technology was still in its early days and there was still significant work to be done on both the technology and commercialization fronts. Now that metal AM has further evolved to the point of large-scale industrialization, Howe feels it is the right time for him personally to step back in to help uplift the business side of the tech.
Building a clear strategy
Howe was drawn to Additive Industries because of its existing capabilities and market position as well as its ambitious roadmap. “We have all the ingredients to deliver industrialized solutions for our customers and make a big success story here. My first months have focused on building a very clear business plan underpinned by clear strategic plans in the commercial, innovation and operational areas of our business. We’re building a top-class commercial team, we’ve hired several new colleagues in North America, we’re hiring in Europe, we’ve brought on new business developers. We’re also investing in the global process and application development teams, and building up the framework to really ramp up our business.”
Currently, Additive Industries has an impressive installed base and counts leading blue-chip OEMs as some of its customers. Looking at the next five years or so, Howe says the company is aiming to become the leading technology player in PBF metal AM and top three in terms of volume.
The unique selling point of MetalFAB technology is productivity leadership, which equates to the most cost-efficient metal AM large-frame system on the market […] This is our expertise and our chosen focus area
“The unique selling point of MetalFAB technology is productivity leadership, which equates to the most cost-efficient metal AM large-frame system on the market. Although the primary revenue stream in our business model is developing and selling equipment to OEMs,” he explains, “we also have a world-class service. This is a key differentiator for our customers, through which we guarantee machine availability, utilization and yields to bring best in class operational efficiency so the customer gets maximum value out of the asset they’ve invested in. We also invest in service engineers globally to make sure that we have the right capabilities close to the customer.”
To support its customers even more and to ease the adoption of its metal AM platform, Additive Industries also provides a process and application development competence as a service. “We have a process and application development team that works with the customer from idea, to testing, to optimizing design.” At Formnext 2021, Additive Industries will be further expanding its service offering with the launch of Additive Studios, through which it will work with customers to create new designs and applications that leverage the full benefits of its MetalFAB system.
“It’s really a collaboration,” Howe specifies about the company’s sales approach. “We have tools and competencies to help our customers understand, to make a business case and to validate it. It’s a consultative selling cycle.”
What’s coming up
Companies across the AM landscape are preparing to bring their solutions and services to Formnext 2021. Additive Industries is no exception, especially as it plans to launch a new system. “We are delighted to inform our customers of the launch of the next-generation MetalFAB, MetalFAB G2 (2nd Generation), with significantly higher productivity. We are also launching Additive Studios, as mentioned, as well as Sigma Labs PrintRite3D beta integration with MetalFAB1, which is a quality tool for melt pool monitoring so we can trace data. We will also launch other quality tools, such as the beam qualification tool. This ensures a high level of quality and automatic beam qualification and calibration.”
In addition to these upcoming launches, Additive Industries is also unveiling a partnership with machine tool manufacturer Makino for addressing pre and post-printing needs. “We are offering our services together with Makino to form projects that deliver end-to-end solutions,” Howe says. “Last but not least, we will launch the Materialise build processor integration.”
Beyond Formnext, Additive Industries has a more long-term plan to expand its presence and sales globally. “Currently, Europe is our biggest market considering installed base alone, followed by North America and then Asia,” Howe states. “I think moving forward, if you look at the market potential, our business will be split predominantly in Europe and North America with Asia accounting for a smaller share .”
Key adoption industries
In terms of industry segments, Additive Industries’strategic focus is in space, aviation, industrial, automotive, energy and high tech. Howe singles out the space industry as especially important because of its position as a first-mover in adopting metal AM technologies.
In this area, metal AM design freedom has enabled aerospace OEMs to produce rocket engine components with optimized geometries and a consolidated number of parts, subsequently improving performance and reducing costs. This is one massive benefit, Howe says. A second avenue for adding value is that the technology can help manage the lifecycle of high-value legacy components. “Many applications that have high value and long life cycle assets require cost-efficient strategies for managing legacy part production and supply parts on-demand, so by managing the whole life cycle of legacy components and not requiring the availability of tooling additive offers massive cost benefits and time savings.” This capability translates to all industries where high-value long-life cycle assets are deployed, such as aviation, energy, industrial, automotive and high tech.
A leader in productivity and other USPs
When asked to sum up how Additive Industries sets itself apart in the broader metal additive manufacturing market, Howe points to three things. “The top USP is productivity leadership. We develop business cases and demonstrate them to the customer, which shows them what we are capable of delivering to them: the highest cost-efficiency for metal part production. We also have an innovation roadmap where we work with customers to ensure that we deliver continuous operational efficiency improvements. We know we have to drive forward year on year.”
The second key differentiator is safety. “We have a fully automated system, which really limits the interaction between humans and fine powders. The third USP is consistency and quality. Yes, you see many systems out there, but if you look at the consistency within the batch or within the powder bed, what you print in the left corner is repeatable in the other corner and also between batches. We are really on a high level of quality.”
Of course, the common factor between all three USPs is the MetalFAB1, a large-frame 3D printing solution that can be formatted and tailored to the customer’s needs. The modular construction of the MetalFAB system allows for the integration of up to four AM cores, enabling users to scale their production volumes. Each AM core, for its part, has a large build volume of 420x420x400 mm. The platform is also open for third-party metal powders.
“If you consider powder bed fusion, we focus on industrial large-frame systems,” he adds. “This is our expertise and our chosen focus area. If you look at metal binder jetting, this is a complimentary and more recently launched technology compared to PBF. it is more suited to small and medium-sized components as it has limitations for removing the binder. You also have processes such as DED and cold spray. These have a great future and are also complementary to PBF. I see all metal AM processes growing and finding their niches but today, powder bed fusion is the most mature.”
Ultimately, Additive Industries’ goal is to continue developing and providing metal AM solutions for its customers and business and its path is very centered on the value its technology can bring to customers. “It’s about generating awareness and following up on all the great things we can do for our customers,” Howe concludes. “It’s about executing our growth strategy. It’s about really driving the innovation pipeline and continuing to work together with customers and developing the right partnerships with OEMs. This is the goal.”
This article was created in collaboration with Additive Industries.