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Collaboration, not competition

Additive manufacturing would be a terrible reality TV theme


By Randy B. Hecht

Reality TV programs celebrate the winner-takes-all mentality. In the end, one player is victorious and gets the prize, the bragging rights, and the cash, while the rest are dismissed as losers. And we all laugh.

But the opposite mindset is driving AM advances. And the key players are convinced that collaboration will produce more winners by every measure: better innovation, a more vibrant market, and greater collective profitability. That might not work as an entertainment concept, but it’s sparking an operating revolution within the AM revolution across all sectors.

Collaboration and IP sharing have traditionally been uncommon in the early stages of high technology development. This slows market adoption and can constrain the technology’s potential. The problem is most acute in industries that are subject to a stringent regulatory environment, such as aerospace, and that depend on specifications to provide a standard for qualification.

Profiting from partnership

That’s why partnerships are key to making progress toward realizing AM’s potential. “The aerospace industry is highly regulated due to safety requirements of commercial aircraft. This requires standards to control technology,” says Dan Johns, Oerlikon’s Chief Technology Officer for AM. However, AM is not yet standardized for aerospace components. “A key enabler is to accelerate the data sets needed to qualify AM, which puts more emphasis on sharing our knowledge with each other.”

The collaborative approach makes financial sense, as well. “It’s almost too expensive for one company to do on its own,” Johns says. “Theoretically, we could create all the data for qualification. However, we are not the design authority for the components. Our customer is — so we need to work with a prime OEM that knows it wants to design components but doesn’t have all the Material and Process (M&P) data sets to design, make and test to.” By engaging in partnerships and joint ventures, leading players in the development of new industrial AM applications create the technical rules that will govern AM into the future.

These collaborations therefore have the potential to help establish a prototype for other OEM relationships in aerospace AM. And that makes decisions to share datasets even more noteworthy. The objectives of Oerlikon’s partnerships with Ruag Space include established qualification targets for space systems. Its joint projects with Lufthansa Technik are focused on qualifying AM applications in the maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) market. And data developed in Oerlikon’s partnership with Boeing will be provided to the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to help create specifications and standards that everyone can use.

Creating — and sharing — the market

Putting intellectual property into the public domain may sound like a strategy for losing market share to competitors. But the particulars of AM turn that traditional perspective on its head. “Sharing the data, knowledge and knowhow makes it possible for all the necessary supply chains to form, which in turn creates the market. In addition, this approach accelerates the innovation cycles and improves the technology performance. Of course, it also creates an opportunity for competition, but the partners recognize that competition will play a key role in opening the market and expanding its value,” Johns highlights.

As he explains, the alternative is counterproductive: limiting the marketplace also limits its potential. “We want to help open up that market and expand that value. Our net value in the long term is higher, and it comes earlier through collaboration than it would be if we worked in isolation. We believe we will grow in the longer term because we help our customers create the market in the near term.”

That same philosophy prompted Oerlikon and the Technical University of Munich to bring to life the Munich Technology Conference (MTC) on Additive Manufacturing in 2017. The third MTC will be held on October 8–10, 2019. Stay tuned for more information and get a glimpse of what the future of collaboration in AM looks like.

The AM “Bermuda” Triangle


The geographic Bermuda Triangle is associated with mysterious, unexplained disappearances. But Dan Johns has created an AM “Bermuda” Triangle that has the opposite effect: it ensures that great ideas won’t fall into oblivion.

As this graphic illustrates, converting ideas into innovations and bringing those innovations to market requires several factors to come together: powder, applications engineering, and AM production.

Johns explains: “You need to integrate all the elements of the value chain to fully benefit from AM. If we only focus on design, we can miss key material and process steps pertinent to the design. I use a simple equation to express this interdependency: Powder (P) + Process (Pr) = Material (M) / Shape (S).”

Dan Johns
Chief Technology Officer Oerlikon AM


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