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Dr. Ivan Rosenberg Gives Insight into the Aerospace Sector of Advanced Manufacturing

Interview with Ivan Rosenberg, Co-Founder & Executive Director of the Aerospace and Defense Forum

Dr. Ivan Rosenberg Gives Insight into the Aerospace Sector of Advanced Manufacturing

Dr. Ivan Rosenberg explains the need for the creation of the Aerospace and Defense Forum, a community that encourages the collaboration of aerospace and defense members for the advancement of the industry.  

Ivan Rosenberg , Ph.D., is the co-Founder and Executive Director of The Aerospace and Defense Forum. This unique global aerospace and defense organization provides opportunities for the sharing of information and analysis, mutual support and encouragement, partnering, innovation, and performance breakthroughs. The community is comprised of over 900 members, including A&D industry executives, investors, government agencies, and entrepreneurs.

AMI: Can you tell me a little bit about your organization and exactly the goal and purpose and current status?

ROSENBERG:  I created the Aerospace and Defense Forum over 4 years ago to provide a place for C-level people to talk about the business of aerospace and defense and it has grown from there. We now have over 900 people on the mailing list and over 350 paid members in 4 chapters in LA, Orange County, San Diego and Arizona. We’re planning to expand this year with 3 more chapters, and continue to improve our newsletters, website and means for our members to communicate with each other.  The purpose is to provide a local venue for business people from both the aerospace and defense companies and the service providers to get together monthly and talk about what’s going on. Each month there is a presenter who is usually a leader in the aerospace and defense community or somebody who’s got some topical information.  They present for about half the meeting and the other half is devoted to conversation about what’s going on in the industry.

AMI: So what are you hearing about additive manufacturing?

ROSENBERG:  It’s a big topic that has not yet achieved its full potential. Its possibilities are phenomenal.  Right now it’s probably used in the non-critical part of the air structure of an aircraft to a greater extent than most people realize. It’s definitely been used in non-load bearing and non-heat parts of the aircraft to lower weight and make really dramatic reductions in implementation and construction time. The promise of its use in the more critical areas is yet to be developed but everybody has confidence that it will be.  One of the great things will be a single manufacture for things that previously required multiple parts to be made and then assembled.  It will also create a tremendous reduction in weight. For example, when you can take a load transfer from one place to another the engineer will tend to do a pretty traditional box and cross member kind of design. A computer can look at what you really need, what really is the minimum amount of material and where should it be, which almost never comes out to be something an engineer would design.  Then you feed the computer generated design into a 3D printer and complete it.

The other kind of real advantage that people are looking for is changing the properties of a part.  For example you can have one edge of a blade very heat resistant and the other edge of the blade very strong and change the composition as you build it. The downsides are the reliability of the results. Right now there is too much variability in the results both in terms of the materials and in terms of the boundaries.  Because you are building an item up layer by layer, the weaknesses are in those boundaries. 3D manufacturing does not yet have the kind of assurances that are needed in the composition of the material as are present in mill materials like in steel, aluminum and titanium, but everybody expects it to. Probably the best guess of when that will happen is five to ten years.

AMI: A lot of people have identified the move from open loop to closed loop control systems as a critical change required in the additive manufacturing industry.

ROSENBERG:   Yes, because you have to monitor very carefully as you manufacture. The industry seems to agree that this change has to come about.  However, various people also suggest that a better understanding of the physics involved is also required.   If the physics is better understood, it will be possible to accurately simulate the effect of different actions.  This simulation is required to really know what to monitor and what corrective action to take.

AMI: What do you think is the biggest business challenge currently facing the commercialization of this in aerospace?  

ROSENBERG:  I think the biggest challenge will be the gap between something working in the lab and putting it on a real production aircraft. People can be reluctant to be the first one in this business because there is way too much at stake in terms of reliability and safety. I think that is the biggest challenge. There are a lot of people in the industry who have been doing it the same way for a long time and it takes a long time for innovations to sometimes penetrate. For example lean manufacturing, which has been around for long time and is pretty well accepted, is still considered a radical new technology by a lot of aerospace companies. So I think that getting people to accept additive manufacturing as reliable as traditional methods will be the biggest challenge.

AMI: Is there anything you think could push that forward?

ROSENBERG:  A major supplier leading the way, like GE Aviation making fuel nozzles with additive manufacturing.  However, even with the resources behind them to reduce the risk, even then it took them 8 years.   

AMI: Any industry growing as rapidly as additive manufacturing and its allied services requires immense amounts of capital. Where do you see that capital coming from?

ROSENBERG:  I don’t think venture capital is big as it used to be. Private equity groups are big right now but there will be different funding for different companies. Companies from $50 to $100 million will probably get capital from private equity groups. I don’t think in general private companies will have the money to invest in the 3D printers until they come down considerably in cost and the reliability is much better proven.

AMI: Well we’ve been talking about additive and aerospace but it sounds as though a lot of the new developments and new ideas and creativities might have come from other industry segments or application areas. Healthcare was one that has been mentioned several times. Do you think people in the aerospace business pay attention to new developments of additives in the health care or other sectors?

ROSENBERG:  I think the people that have focused on additive purely, like academics or research departments of the larger companies, will be aware of what’s going on in other areas. They are more 3D technology people than they are aerospace people.  Even within aerospace there is huge segmentation and many times the aviation people don’t speak to the space people, people involved with different kinds of rockets sometimes don’t talk to each other, people involved with different kinds of composite materials don’t talk to each other. In fact the rate of acceptance of composites would probably be a good indicator for the rate of acceptance of 3D manufacturing. At the same time, the crossover of using new materials and processes in other applications is taking quite a while. Composites are being used to make wings and fuselages. Obviously when you do that there is a high degree of confidence, but it took a long time to get there. And now composite fuel tanks and rockets are just starting to come up.  It’s surprising to me that things like composites and 3D manufacturing have not found greater acceptance outside aerospace because aerospace has this critical kind of safety and reliability. Maybe it’s the cost of manufacturing that is too big for these other areas. Maybe aerospace needs to bring costs down and once it does other manufacturing will use it too.

AMI: I’ve heard some people say they are a little weary of their comparison with composites simply because the composites require a sort of development of large scale and somewhat rather expensive facilities and such, which is not the case with additive.

ROSENBERG:  I think where the comparisons are valid is in the risk adverseness of aerospace for the new technology.  What has really driven it is pressure from the airlines for fuel efficiency and improved maintenance and reduction cost.

Increased competition in the airline business is what’s really pushing it, along with the risk adverseness. The consequences of failure are pretty big in aircraft. It’s a different model obviously in automobile because the number is considerably different and 3D printing has been used mostly in non-risky areas. The only reason I can think of is because it probably doesn’t offer a lower cost solution and automobiles don’t yet have the weight and other concerns that you do in the aircraft. I think in the future there will be less and less subtractive manufacturing generally in the industry and throughout manufacturing.

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