Dr. Sven Hicken joined Oerlikon a year ago, after working over 20 years first at Airbus and then in the automotive industry, at BMW, specializing in materials engineering. The move to Oerlikon, a materials and surface coatings giant, was a natural one as is his current focus on AM. During the recent MTC3, we spoke with Dr. Hicken about Oerlikon’s strategy to achieve production readiness as an AM service provider in segments such as aerospace, medical and automotive. One of the main concepts he expressed is the need to focus on specific AM opportunities.
“Oerlikon has a very significant market share in coatings. In 2015 the company’s management looked at new potential areas of growth,” Dr. Hicken told 3dpbm. “Starting from the baseline that the company’s core knowledge is materials, they identified AM as a key growth segment. With knowledge of AM powders and coatings, which also can be applied to AM parts, we decided to focus on providing AM services. Customers come to us with the parts they want to build, and we provide the technology. We can help them make their visions a reality with AM in ways that aren’t possible with conventional manufacturing.”
Bringing partners together
The Manufacturing Technology Conference, MTC is a means to achieve these goals. Now in its third, successful, edition, the conference draws leaders from all segments of the AM production workflow, bringing them together to discuss how they – and their companies – can collaborate to advance AM into a means to digitally mass produce better products.
This year, again, the speaker line up was impressive. Oerlikon’s goal for last year’s conference was to build the collaborative ecosystem, as the company’s CEO, Dr. Roland Fischer, told 3dpbm in an exclusive interview. This year the conference’s goal was to focus on how AM companies can collaborate to evolve AM into a consolidated production method.
“There are still several challenges,” Dr. Hicken admits. “One key aspect to consider is that, in order to succeed, every AM company has to contribute its key area of expertise. At Oerlikon, we have decided to focus on providing AM services, and we need to bring together all the parts of the workflow. The basic idea of the MTC is to offer a platform to create these connections, not just on technical issues but also identifying key business opportunities. That’s why there has been an MTC3, and there will be an MTC4 next year, only that one will be in Aachen to strengthen the relationship with RWTH Aachen University.
To accelerate toward production-readiness, Oerlikon partnered with six companies to make MTC3 possible, all representing various stages of the end-to-end AM production workflow. Where Oerlikon acts as a material and AM service provider, GE Additive is a material and AM hardware provider; TÜV SÜD is a certification expert; Siemens is an AM service and CAE/workflow software, provider. Other MTC3 conference partners such as LINDE, the Technical University of Munich (TUM) and McKinsey & Company cover other key aspects, from research to consultancy to gas supply. Many of these companies are also collaborating on creating a Bavaria-based open additive manufacturing cluster that will focus on the research and development of additive manufacturing technologies.
Focusing on the opportunities
“AM is a very different world, and I appreciate very much being a part of it and the fact that Oerlikon’s commitment to this industry is clear,” Dr. Hicken told us. “We see very important production opportunities in aerospace, with space and defense segments as key adopters today.”
This year, the MTC3 panel on aerospace applications featured top managers from Airbus, UTC, Safran, Boeing and Lockheed Martin on the same stage discussing real cases for AM. “Civil aviation is later down the timeline, “Dr. Hicken continued, “and it will be an even greater opportunity in the future. Aviation companies still need to gain more confidence in metal printed parts. We have a great collaboration with Boeing in place and have worked with them to show that with the right materials, it is possible to achieve the part properties they require. The partnership with Boeing focuses on titanium but nickel alloys are also very important for us in the aerospace segment, especially for engine parts.”
By focusing on AM services, Oerlikon is able to diversify in terms of applications. One segment that is already producing significant numbers of products is the medical implants segment. Oerlikon Group has several facilities around the world serving the medical market. One of the latest additions was the acquisition in Connecticut of DiSanto Technologies, which uses both EB – and now also laser PBF – to produce implants for knees, shoulders, hips, ankle, spine and trauma. “At our Oerlikon AM medical facility everything is certified: the materials, the site, the process, says Dr. Hicken. “We acquired them last year to produce parts there and we intend to expand their production capabilities over time.”
Another segment targeted by AM is automotive. Representatives from Volkswagen and BMW participated in the conference. “In automotive, it is all about cost,” Dr. Hicken, who spent 20 years at BMW, explains. “Most of the AM applications today are still focusing on prototyping and small volumes. We are supplying metal AM parts to luxury automakers, which is a perfect fit for AM: small volume, high part property requirements.” Dr. Hicken also believes that the automotive segment will benefit from upcoming binder jet production technologies. “We have very capable people in our team evaluating these processes. The powder bed fusion process is still too slow for high volume applications in automotive, and while we see a clear trend toward multi-laser systems, certain parts will have to be produced by binder jetting.”