Q & A – Scott Killian of EOS Discusses Increasing Demand for Additive Manufacturing
Interview with Scott Killian, Business Development Manager, Aerospace for EOS of North America, Inc.
Scott Killian of EOS examines the increasing demand for additive manufacturing - through the rapid growth in both speed and capabilities seen as driving the expansion.
Scott Killian has over 30 years of experience with high tech/emerging technology companies in business development, solution sales, marketing, support services and operations management. Over 15 years of Scott’s professional career has been involved with the additive manufacturing industry across multiple segments: OEM’s, service providers and materials development and manufacturing. This breadth of experience has given Scott an in-depth understanding of the challenges in applying additive manufacturing technologies to production applications.
AMI: Could you quickly sketch out your company’s involvement with additive?
KILLIAN: We’ve been active in additive manufacturing for 25 years, starting in the late 1980s with plastic machines. In the late 1990s we started working on metal machines. We were the first company to market with a powdered-bed technology, which we call direct metal laser sintering or DMLS. We’ve had the process for about 15 years and have been selling it commercially for the last 10 years. We are an OEM, we manufacture the platforms and we also sell the materials and services—we offer cradle-to-grave solutions.
AMI: Where does your firm sit in the additive OEM universe?
KILLIAN: We do high end machines, with a focus on manufacturing capability. We represent the high output end of the industry.
AMI: What is the biggest technological challenge your firm faces today?
KILLIAN: The companies that we sell to want standardization, reliability, repeatability, all the things they have today in machine tools they are familiar with: CNC tools, lathes, injection molding technologies, etc. One of our biggest challenges is to more-or-less immediately deliver the same maturity with our additive technology that other technologies have been able to attain over many decades of development work. A second big challenge is speed. Additive processes can’t currently deliver the volume of manufactured items that you would see from true mass production technologies like injection-molded plastics or castings.
Additive manufacturing, at least today, is the technology of choice primarily when doing very complex jobs that are very difficult or very expensive to do with conventional technologies. That’s where it shines.
AMI: Some end users of your machines anticipate seeing an improvement curve in the speed and capabilities of additive manufacturing that would be similar to what the semiconductor industry refers to as Moore’s Law. Do you think that pace of progress—a doubling every 18-24 months—is possible?
KILLIAN: I think we are at the inflection point of a hockey stick growth curve for this industry. Relative costs will come down for additive manufacturing in that while absolute costs of machines haven’t changed much over the last 5-6 years, the capabilities of those machines have been greatly enhanced, so the delivered value for the dollar has grown substantially. We’ll continue to see machines get faster and have enhanced functionality, including reliability and repeatability, even if there isn’t any reduction in the cost of the machine in the near term.
AMI: Some end users are anticipating major increases in the volume of products they make via additive manufacturing. They have suggested that this increase in manufacturing volume represents a major challenge for supply chains. Do you agree?
KILLIAN: Many manufacturers are looking at that growth curve, and are asking how the supply chain is going to meet these increased demands. Now there are five or six platform manufacturers that can help contribute to meeting these goals. Speaking for ourselves, we’re already preparing for exponential growth in being able to manufacture and deliver a greater number of platforms. We started about 24 months ago to put the infrastructure in place to give ourselves the ability to ramp up production quickly to meet demand.
AMI: Is it clear how large a ramp up may be needed?
KILLIAN: It is an interesting phenomenon in this industry right now. There is a lot of talk, and a lot of plans, to expand the use of additive manufacturing in industries such as aerospace over the next 2, 3, 4 years. A lot of companies that might buy our platforms are still struggling with really understanding this manufacturing process and how to utilize it in their production supply chain. This is so new to so many businesses, and many of them are several years away from any real world production. But we have to plan for where everybody could be in a few years, because at some point demand is really going to explode.
AMI: With any industry growing as rapidly as additive manufacturing may be growing, there usually has to be pretty good access to capital to fund that growth. The uncertainty you cite may also suggest that the better funded players might be able to take more risks in expanding their production capacity and thus capture more of it when it materializes. How big a constraint will access to capital be for this industry’s growth?
KILLIAN: If you have a solid business proposition, and need capital, you won’t have too much difficulty raising money. But not being capital constrained doesn’t mean we’re not constrained, so to speak. The technology of additive manufacturing hasn’t progressed in any revolutionary way over the past 20 years but rather has progressed in an evolutionary way. Even our introduction of powdered metal bed technology was essentially an evolutionary step forward, not a revolution. So even if a very large, well-funded company were to enter the business, which up until now has been, essentially, a niche business, such a firm wouldn’t automatically be able to resolve the essentiall technical challenges that have restrained growth in additive manufacturing up until now—at least not by throwing money at them. That is because the challenges are more the result of shortages of human capital than of financial capital. At the moment there is a limited number of people who are really up to speed on solving the technical limitations of additive manufacturing.
AMI: It seems that some companies’ growth prospects in health care applications will include partnering or joint venturing with a more established player in that field. Do you think the industry will see an increase in joint venturing or in partnering or in M&A as applications continue to spread into new industries?
KILLIAN: I think we will see all of those things happen very commonly going forward. If a company has a client that has a leadership position in a particular industry segment, and they have an application that uses your process to deliver a custom product, then it could make sense to look at some kind of partnering arrangement. Also, speaking specifically of health care, there are special legal and regulatory issues that come into play there that encourage such partnering strategies. A newcomer to additive manufacturing does not want to take on the whole qualification burden and certification burden and QM burden, but the additive company could deliver parts to an established healthcare company that is used to handling such issues. There are many opportunities like that in the additive universe.
AMI: How about M&A?
KILLIAN: There have been and will be mergers. For example, some of these smaller guys in the healthcare industry will get gobbled up by one of the big four or big five in implants. But as far as partnering goes, this industry has always had lots of partnerships. There have certainly been many, many joint production agreements to fill orders for which one company lacked the internal capacity.
AMI: Do you think that most issues run across multiple industries?
KILLIAN: Many do. For example, certainly in the metals area, people want standards. There’s all this engineering materials-property data for most forms of manufacturing. They want to know if I take this kind of steel and machine it in this fashion I’ll get certain performance out of it. They can look all that up in a reference guide. This is true for all types of manufacturing, injection molding, castings, forgings, etc., etc. There’s very little of this type of data on the metals side of additive manufacturing. That’s what everybody is struggling with. However, in my opinion, you’d have to generate that data for every platform on the market. Everybody uses powdered metal in their platform, but how that metal is prepared or processed is often a bit different from one platform to another. And then we have to wait for the CAD companies to study these additive processes and build some kind of finite analysis capability for them into their design software, but that’s going to take a lot of work. This is a big challenge across all industries: what can engineers use as quality information so they can design for the additive process? Right now, every company has to take that on themselves to do that internally. GE worked on their fuel nozzles for years, which means they were running parts for years, testing, understanding the process, so that their designers eventually came to understand what they could expect from a given design in a given material.
AMI: Have you considered trying to develop that kind of data for your materials and your
KILLIAN: We have. But it is very expensive, which wouldn’t be so bad except that if you talk to people in an industry, like aerospace, and ask them what they would like, you get a hundred different answers. You go to five different aerospace companies, and ask them what materials they want to see data for, and they’ll give you five completely different answers. And not only that, but because this is all so new, they’ll tell you that at the end of the day they would still need to bring the process in-house and do their own testing to be sure they can trust the results. We’re actually developing this data for titanium for the medical industry, because we found that it is widely enough used to help our customers in that industry. But in most industries and most materials it is just not very practical today.