Germany-based Siemens has been working with 3D printing in its global operations for some time now, integrating the technology across a variety of its businesses and developing significant familiarity with the disruptive manufacturing process. I recently appreciated the opportunity to speak with Markus Seibold, VP Additive Manufacturing, Siemens Power and Gas.
In this exclusive two-part interview, Seibold shares Siemens’ strategic approach to additive manufacturing; the first part focuses on the company as a user of additive manufacturing specifically in power generation, while in this second part we examine Siemens’ strategic approach to the market as a service provider leveraging user expertise.
Because the company recognizes the importance of additive manufacturing to the future of industry and has established itself as a leader in cutting-edge applications in real-world industrial conditions, Siemens is committing to the development of the next generation of not only power generation, but across a variety of verticals that will benefit from the incorporation of 3D printing into daily operations. With such high-profile success stories as the creation of gas turbine blades serving as a proof-point for the technology as being viable in demanding end-use applications, Siemens is springboarding from user to provider of additive manufacturing services.
“So far we have been mainly known as the user; we want to develop our business model and become a provider of AM parts and services,” Seibold told me.
“We do this not necessarily for power generation — this is mostly where we stay focused on Siemens Power and Gas as an internal user — but to bring our technology and know-how and experience as a user to other users, such as aerospace, automotive, and motorsports, in terms of tooling. We want to be perceived as a leading user for our turbines, and number two, at the end of the day, to raise our public profile as a service provider. Siemens Power and Gas has many things to offer that many other players in the market don’t.”
Siemens’ name is very well known across the world, providing a variety of services across a variety of industries — and Seibold and the team understand that an important question regarding the intention to expand to offering external industrial 3D printing services is a simple one: why?
“Why do we think we have something to offer? We do we do that, why do we think we are uniquely positioned to offer something different, and what are our specific plans around that?” Seibold asked, briefly taking on my role in the interview as he anticipated the query.
Differentiation is an underlying need for any market entry, and Siemens is prepared to highlight the advantages of both additive manufacturing and its own approach to service provision. The differences for Siemens lie in the company’s own history with the technology and the resulting operational expertise and understanding of the benefits of an additive approach.
One interesting advantage Seibold pointed out for the adoption of additive manufacturing in the power generation industry is a lower overall barrier to entry than in aerospace.
“Barriers to getting combustion components, rotating turbine components, and lightweight structural parts are lower when it comes to land-based gas turbines than other applications; our turbines don’t fly and we basically do not have any central certification authority, such as the ESA in Europe or the FAA in Europe,” he noted.
While standards and regulations are, generally speaking, much-desirable in mission-critical components, they do ensure present a significant barrier for introducing new techniques, new designs, new materials, to production. Additive manufacturing offers understood advantages such as lightweighting and creation of complex geometries — but the parts and processes behind these must be certified for use prior to any wider adoption. For power generation, important components are created and can be brought into use in a much more streamlined manner due to a lower set of broad oversight.
Developing expertise in additive manufacturing for power generation has led to the company building up experience and understanding that will ultimately serve as the foundation for transferable offerings. When it comes to new advanced technologies, successful demonstration of adoption in one area can drive a snowball effect in collaborative and cross-industry adoption, speeding and enhancing the technologies’ use across other applications. Working with partners can see expertise in one area leveraged for additional areas.
“Sometimes if you manage to create broader partnerships with more industries, at the end of the day adopting a technology faster, then you yourself might be benefiting faster. Additive manufacturing machines might be getting more cost-effective sooner, might get more productive sooner, because you have a broader market pull,” Seibold told me.
“If we can help generate a broader market pull, we believe our core business can benefit from that. Power generation is not the biggest application for additive; if we drive excitement in aerospace, in automotive, the sheer number of applications will drive more demand and bring costs down, which will ultimately help our core business. If we help find cross-industry partnerships, we believe this will form a faster market pull. We believe we have lower barriers to entry and can help speed adoption. For aerospace, we believe through our 100,000 operating hours we have proven experience of really qualifying and releasing AM parts for production, with process controls and quality controls in place. We have experience ramping up processes and driving productivity, we have proven experience in using additive manufacturing for our own components. Bring together these things, these lower barriers to entry, and cross-industry collaboration will help speed adoption.”
This collaborative approach and leveraging of experience lies at the heart of Seibold and team’s motivation for extending into external service offerings.
He noted that with Siemens having experience in serial production for additive manufacturing in power and gas applications, while this is not equivalent to aerospace certifications it does highlight the company’s understanding of key factors impacting the adoption of additive into manufacturing. Experience in powder handling and ensuring production quality for machines has led to internal development of powder and process certifications. Siemens has set up a product and process qualification method through which a defined set of criteria is in place for process repeatability and the creation of parts produced in a usable manner. He noted that through Siemens’ Digital Factory division they have in-house a complete digital end-to-end chain of additive, as Siemens was an early adopter of digital factory tools, and looks to set up a seamless product lifecycle management (PLM) chain.
An important part of the strategy going forward rests with Materials Solutions, in which the company strategically invested in 2015 prior to a 2016 acquisition. Through this additive manufacturing specialist, Siemens gained 10 years of experience in aerospace, as “Materials Solutions is a certified and approved aerospace vendor by a couple of big aerospace OEMs.” Bringing this decade of experience together with Siemens’ internal digitization focus creates a strong contender in industry know-how — as underscored by a recently announced €30 million investment in a 3D printing factory scheduled to open in September 2018 in Worcester, UK that will double the company’s number of 3D printers to 50.
“Serial production, we know what it takes, to certify and quality control the entire process chain from powder to finished part, digital factory and end-to-end PLM chain and basically early adopting that in our AM, and with Materials Solutions have already 10 years experience, we are very explicitly through Materials Solutions a provider of services to aerospace, automotive, motorsports, tooling. So we are already today not only power and gas,” Seibold explained.
“The investment into Materials Solutions, into the UK, is the first big step [toward service offerings]. Siemens will remain a customer for Materials Solutions on the new premises. The decision to expand also comes with the fact that Materials Solutions has the reputation as a certified provider for external customers. We don’t want to interrupt that — we want to encourage that. The investment decision in the UK is an exact expression of internal components for Siemens, yes, but also for external business.”
He underscored that if Siemens were interested in additive manufacturing capabilities only for internal use, they “already have manufacturing facilities in the Siemens network that we could have deployed for local demand.”
“Investment into Materials Solutions is a statement that we want to expand on external business,” he said.
Part of the expansion focus with Materials Solutions relates to technical capabilities, notably bringing in aluminum materials. The company currently “has a lot of nickel alloys under their capability belt” and the next step is in bringing aluminum, largely in response to demand.
“We don’t want to become low-cost, don’t want to become everybody’s service bureau, but there are things people are asking for,” Seibold noted. “Adding aluminum to the portfolio is something we are working on. If customers have a strong interest in a certain material and want to enter into a strategic partnership with someone who knows about serial production of powders for additive, we would also work on development.”
While this expansion is focusing initially on the United Kingdom, Siemens will also be “going more global than England.” Next steps are in process now, but the company won’t be announcing definite next locations until approvals are in place. Seibold did note that the intent is to “bring the technology closer to aerospace and automotive concentrations” in key regions.
For now, the UK factory represents a fine showcase of Siemens’ vision for an additive factory. It will be bringing in many of Siemens’ broader capabilities to create an environment that will “see many of the latest digital factory and AM technologies” including end-to-end PLM chain focus and MindSphere, Siemens’ open cloud platform/IoT operating system; “We will also be thinking of things like that,” Seibold noted.
“The factory in the United Kingdom will be a state-of-the-art digital manufacturing facility where you will see many of Siemens’ offerings in the new solutions setup,” he told me.
In addition to the factory capabilities, Materials Solutions will see an expansion of its offerings from part making to include engineering services in the business model. This, Seibold explained, will include facets such as consulting services, materials development, and design services. Each step of this development will be built organically, leveraging the Power and Gas user experience to ultimately help more external customers.
“We believe that we can help others learn the potential of additive, working side-by-side with customers and our team, leveraging the Power and Gas experience. We are launching and piloting this to be not only a part manufacturer, but really also helping customers in unleashing potential on the design side,” he concluded.
The story of Siemens is a complex and multi-faceted tale of additive manufacturing for industry — and fortunately is one that the company is ever more willing to share. Speaking with Seibold allowed for a greater understanding of the company’s immediate experience with and long-term plans for 3D printing throughout global operations, and I absolutely look forward to following.
For further reading, Seibold lays out more of his thoughts on the offerings at the new factory in a thorough LinkedIn article.
Discuss Siemens and other 3D printing topics at 3DPrintBoard.com or share your thoughts in the Facebook comments below.[All images provided by Siemens]