The AM industry’s back and the AM industry’s highest-level conference is also back with a new hybrid format and in the new Aachen location. Just two years ago—but it seems like a lot longer—we were at MTC3 speaking with Dr. Sven Hicken about his new role as Head of Oerlikon’s AM business. Now we are back with Dr. Hicken, also CTO, Surface Solutions Division at Oerlikon, for a preview on the many highlights to expect from AMTC, Oerlikon’s upcoming biggest conference to date. The exclusive event is set on driving momentum for growth in AM, with over 50 C-level speakers, 30 key partners, and the possibility to attend from anywhere in the world (see the conference’s program).
It is not by chance that this year’s AMTC is going to be focusing on leveraging the industry growth momentum. To help define the most relevant topics that will be discussed from October 12th to the 14th, Dr. Hicken who was just entering the AM industry from BMW only two years ago, published a detailed Thesis paper in collaboration with Prof. Dr. Michael Süß, Chairman of the Board of Directors, Oerlikon, on the six elements that the industry will need to address in order to leverage its growth momentum.
The full document is available to download on the AMTC website. The six theses discussed are topics that Oerlikon and its partners have been particularly involved with since the very start. They could be summarized as:
- Involving AM specialists as early as possible in the development process;
- Adjust university curricula to better educate engineers.
- Continue developing and advancing AM systems.
- Interdisciplinary collaboration for all phases in the AM process workflow.
- Mandatory AM standards to help industrialization.
- A dedicated AM association to represent the interests of the AM community.
Growing productivity with collaborations
Among the theses discussed by Dr. Hicken in the paper, three elements focus on the need to evolve AM technologies and the entire AM workflow (design, process and post-process), while optimizing and defining the most value-added AM applications. Despite many challenges, Dr. Hicken thinks the industry has made significant steps in the right direction over the past two years. “[The AM industry] has developed especially in terms of how more customers have been able to identify ideal applications“—he explains. “This is still a major challenge for many adopters and also also for us when working with those customers. The interest is still strong and AM adopters need to invest time and internal resources, especially within their design department, to fully capture the opportunities offered by AM.”
The transition to digital could take a very long time for companies that have catalogs of hundreds and even thousands of different parts. Not all of those, however, need to be implemented in AM and understanding which ones by involving AM experts early in the development process can greatly accelerate the selection phase. Networking and learning about real application case studies presented by industry leaders can help accelerate the process.
“It’s a big task and requires a big effort. Some companies have decided to scale down and some have even stopped implementing AM,” Dr. Hicken explains. “However, we also see companies that continue to work on these topics, and I’m deeply convinced that, at the end of the day, those who will have identified applications where additive makes a lot of sense will see great benefits. We all know additive doesn’t make sense for every single part, but, on certain selected parts, companies have been able to generate great added value and reduce time to market.”
While Dr. Hicken concedes that this process to identify parts has improved on the customer side, the continued, rapid development level of AM technologies, especially AM hardware systems, is another element that will enable more companies to adopt AM. “There is now a clear trend toward more productivity, with more laser capacity. SLM Solutions introduced their twelve-laser machine two years ago and that is a big step. However – he adds – that is only one piece of the puzzle. More lasers enable us to melt more volume per time but more optimization is still needed in terms of part design, process and post-processing.”
In this sense, Oerlikon’s collaboration with Linde Gases, a key event partner from the start, has been bringing many improvements to the AM process by optimizing the interaction between the powder, the beam and the chamber atmosphere. “Gas flow—Dr. Hicken explains— is a key part of the AM process and affects the result significantly. We are very glad that Linde will be our partner again at AMTC.” The two companies are working on a joint research project and will be reporting the results.
From theory to practice
Another key element that will be discussed during the AMTC conference is the need to adjust university curricula to better educate engineers. Aachen University, a conference partner this year, is widely recognized in Germany and Europe for its work and research on additive manufacturing. “The educational aspect has improved a lot in recent years,” Dr. Hicken continues: “We clearly can see more professors pick up on the idea of additive with very important AM programs. Some of the largest institutions have installed internal networks to make sure that they can build on a really good momentum of very talented professors and curious students. That is a great combination!”
Along with improved curricula, there remains much to be done at the regulatory level. In the thesis document, Dr. Hicken also highlighted the need to develop mandatory standards, something that Oerlikon has been working with conference partner TUV for some time, and perhaps even more urgently, the need for AM companies to come together into an association that can represent the interests of the AM community on a global scale.
The AMTC is looking to provide a starting point to build this AM industry group. “Long-term partners like Siemens, TUV or Linde,” says Dr. Hicken, “look to the conference to present themselves as front runners in this growing industry. AMTC is not a trade show—where everyone is busy conducting business—so it really allows decision-makers to meet and discuss with opinion leaders about the future directions that the AM industry is going to take. It’s starting to take the form of an industry association promoting and consolidating AM globally.”
Contributing Oerlikon’s experience
Among all the conference participants, Oerlikon can contribute the company’s unique experience in coatings (including coatings applied to AM parts) and as a leading metal AM service provider (one of the top 10 largest by revenues, according to 3dpbm Research’s recently released report on Metal AM Market Opportunities and Trends).
We will definitely continue to use the MTC as a platform for networking, for partnering and bringing people together. What we want to emphasize this year is examples of real growth. We decided to title the event “Momentum for Growth” and we have invited many companies to share their success stories with AM.”
Which are Oerlikon’s own success stories in AM? The Surface Solutions Division, which includes AM services is world-leading specialist in coatings, both film and thermal spray. The company is developing unique know-how on how to apply coatings to improve the mechanical qualities, surface and functionalities of metal 3D printed parts. This includes the ability to treat complex internal channels opening a new range of possibilities.
In terms of AM applications, one segment Mr. Hicken is particularly adamant about is aerospace and especially the space industry. “Aerospace companies are great examples for AM in general as they are already seeing huge benefits in additive and the entire space industry is growing as a result. In many cases, these are applications that clearly show added functionalities that ultimately allow for higher performances and reduced costs.” Although Mr. Hicken conceded that many space companies had internalized some production, he also points out that many of them are among Oerlikon’s largest clients and will likely continue to both produce internally and outsource AM parts production.
“As more varied applications require different technologies and systems, even those companies that have internal AM production facilities will still start to think about building a supply chain and work with external providers that can offer multiple AM capabilities. Space is a huge segment and there is a lot of money going into it now: it is a real race to space and it is also a race in terms of time-to-market, driven in part by continued growth in the overall telecommunications industry.”