Siemens' Long History in 3D Printing and the Additive Future Ahead
Siemens is a global giant in industry, and demonstrates a long history with additive manufacturing; in this interview, we learn more about this rich history and a look at what’s to come.
Phil Hatherley is General Manager of Materials Solutions – A Siemens Business. Earlier this year, the business announced a £27 million investment which will increase capabilities by moving to a new facility, allowing Materials Solutions to expand.
Siemens has long been a proponent of additive manufacturing; how far back does this interest go?
“Siemens has been interested in additive manufacturing (AM) since its conception in the 1990s. We have specifically looked at metals AM for about the last decade, from our Gas Turbine Service organisation in Finspång, Sweden as an approach to repair burners.
Since then, Siemens’ knowledge has developed finding continued applications for this technology and culminated most recently with the acquisition of Materials Solutions – A Siemens Business. Materials Solutions is an expert in the use of selective laser melting (SLM) for the manufacture of high-performance metal parts, which makes it a reliable partner.
Siemens has also strongly supported the adoption of additive manufacturing with a range of its software tools and is active in making the technology more and more capable for designers to embrace.”
In what capacities does Siemens put additive manufacturing to use internally?
“Within the Siemens family additive manufacturing is a regularly used tool for rapid prototyping and proving out concepts for both internal improvements as well as for customer projects. As well as rapid prototypes, Siemens is also using AM in its products to repair and refurbish hot gas path components but also to provide spare parts on demand – we have over 100,000 operating hours experience of AM components in our power generation sector today.”
How does the company use AM for customer applications?
“Materials Solutions has a wide customer base, which isn’t just limited to Siemens customers. So, while we have designed and produced axial swirlers, turbine blades and other components for Siemens Gas Turbines, we also supply additively manufactured components externally to customers in a wide market in motorsport, aerospace, automotive and other industry sectors.
The type of things made in the factory range from high temperature components found in gas turbines and jet engines to tooling applications and many other components. It’s one of the advantages of AM that the applications are so wide.”
What can we expect to see from Materials Solutions' recent expansion in the UK?
“This exciting expansion allows us to increase our AM capacity and focus on industrialisation of the metals additive manufacturing process, taking it out of the lab and into a production factory.
We’ll be using typical manufacturing principles such as LEAN, visual factory, kanbans and other production techniques to improve productivity while ensuring highest quality of the product.
We will also be able to employ additional capability to provide our expertise from consulting services and materials knowledge to component’s additive manufacturing, post-processing and qualification & certification.
We will also be taking advantage of the new factory to deploy Siemens digital factory software, utilising tools such as NX, MindSphere – the cloud based internet of things platform and Preactor on site.”
How do Siemens and Materials Solutions approach the market with regard to 3D printing?
“Together, with Siemens as a knowledgeable user of additive manufacturing from an application and digital perspective and Materials Solutions as a provider of high quality additively manufactured components, it puts us in a unique position in the market to provide a quality solution to customers.
We’re experts in the selective laser melting form of AM with knowledge of nickel based super alloys, steels, titanium and aluminum, so complex and challenging applications are what we focus on. We are there to help customers solve high end complex problems with additive manufacturing.
For example, in the power or aerospace sector, we can provide products which can work in the turbine and combustion areas where the components experience extreme conditions and require tight geometrical tolerances.”
Where do you see some of the most significant opportunities for additive manufacturing?
“When designers fully embrace what can be achieved with additive manufacturing I can see the opportunities continuing to grow. Currently we still see customers coming to us with designs and tolerances based on traditional manufacture, but as a new generation of designers come through I would anticipate more and more components being designed with AM in mind.
AM allows you to design components which couldn’t be manufactured traditionally. This could potentially improve the performance of the product, it could allow a group of components to be produced as one or it could be a prototype where the cost and timing of tooling is prohibitive
There are also opportunities to reverse engineer legacy parts without the need for costly tooling. Recently we worked with Siemens heritage colleagues in Lincoln to reverse engineer a steering box for a 1920s classic Ruston Car. Reverse engineering in this way means you can replicate the part without tooling, and in this case, breathing life back into the car, which would have taken much longer otherwise.”
What global trends are you observing?
“There are market studies that show the global AM market (total) has the potential to grow to €25 billion by 2022 and certainly the general feeling and buzz at exhibitions and trade shows is supporting that growth.
It’s not just about the number of organisations starting to use AM, but we’re also seeing more players in the market to choose from who supply printers and powders and an increase in the technology development too.”
Can you share any common misconceptions about what 3D printing can offer? How does the company help customers to better understand the realities of the technology?
“One of the main misconceptions, especially with metals additive manufacturing, that it is economically possible to replace your current part with AM – in reality AM is still typically more expensive. If you’re looking to use AM then the benefits, such as design opportunities should be considered at the same time. There is also a belief that you can ‘just print it’ – and this simply isn’t true for metals printing. A repeating quote to customers is, ‘just because you can print it, doesn’t mean you should!’
We are open with customers about the entire end-to-end process and want to be a trusted partner. We encourage them to visit our factory, to see how we work and what we do. In some cases, there could be opportunities to redesign their component or combine it with others which then make AM viable. But, we’ll talk to them and tell them honestly whether a traditional manufacturing method is more appropriate.”
What else should we know about Siemens/Materials Solutions’ growth story?
“Materials Solutions isn’t just a Siemens internal supplier – we’re open for business from third party customers within motorsport, aerospace, automotive and other industry sectors. The investment in the new Materials Solutions facility is just the start. We’re expanding the footprint of the site and that means we’ll be able to grow the amount of work we’re able to take on.’