In the fourth instalment of TCT Magazine’s Additive Insight Innovators on Innovators podcast series, Stratasys VP of Aerospace Scott Sevcik [SS] sits down with Boeing Technical Lead Engineer Michael Hayes [MH].
During a 50 minute conversation, they open up on the near 20-year relationship between their two companies and detail their experiences of integrating additive manufacturing (AM) into the aerospace sector. Amongst the anecdotes of how the two companies came to work together – and Sevcik’s first impression of 3D printing – the pair provide insights on the challenges in applying 3D printing in aerospace, the increasing value of AM for manufacturing supply chains, and how companies like Stratasys respond to the needs of companies like Boeing.
Below, we have the full transcript of the pair’s exchange.
SS: Hi Mike, how are you doing?
MH: Morning Scott, great. How you doing today?
SS: I’m doing well. I was just thinking about the fact that I am just about to hit seven years at Stratasys. And thinking back to seven years ago, coming in the door into additive manufacturing for the first time, one of the first things I heard about was the history with Boeing and in particular the relationship you had and the influence you had had at Stratasys at that point. So, it’s fun to be having this conversation now and thinking back on that.
MH: It has been an interesting [few] years. I can’t say it always has taken the road that I had always planned on that would be taken. But it’s been a great slalom course of entering through additive and particularly FDM and watching it grow from those early years. Early on, I started working with Stratasys, I’d say in 2002, and it was in 2003 when we really started having the conversations with the team up there.
SS: What were some of those first conversations? And really, how did you make that connection initially?
MH: […] I’ve been with Boeing now for almost 34 years, and the first half of my career has been structural design. So, when I entered over into what was then a RP, rapid prototyping, group back in whatever it was, 2002, I saw the limitations of additive because all we really had was Stereolithography and Selective Laser Sintering in the team then, and the limitations of the material, the limitations of the process, I thought this isn’t really where I wanted to go as a structural type person. My mantra had become large, structural and multifunctional and there was limitations in those processes. Then I learned about this thing called Fused Deposition Modelling, the extrusion process. And that really piqued my interest on the possibility of what could be done.
So, we went to a user group – I don’t know whether it was the first one, it was the first one I knew about – in 2003, up in downtown Minneapolis. And it was going to start – I remember specifically – on a Sunday. Me and a colleague flew up there to Minneapolis on Saturday evening. When we arrived, they had a room for my colleague, but they did not have a room for myself. They didn’t have a reservation for me. So after much discussions back and forth, they offered me the presidential suite of the hotel with a caveat. The caveat was there would be no bedrooms and what they would do is roll me a cot into there and I said I’ll take it. So I grabbed the presidential suite, had my cot, went down Sunday morning and had the first part of the events. First thing I did Monday morning was run back down to the clerk to see if I could stay in that room so they went and moved me for the duration of the meeting because it was very enjoyable, except for the cot part.
MH: But then on Monday, that’s when I learned of a new name down there that I hadn’t heard. His name was Scott Crump and I realised that’s the person I want to talk to. And so I found out Monday morning who he was, where he was, I went up to him and told him who I was with and I’d like to have a conversation and meet with him. And he said sure. So I said how about we meet up in my room, because in the middle of this room was about a 12 foot conference room table, looking out over downtown Minneapolis. And so we went up to the presidential suite at lunchtime and sat down up there at the conference room table. And that’s where we first had our conversations, but I recall Scott saying, ‘Boeing must have a lot of interest in FDM and additive to put you in a room like this.’ And I told him, ‘they do.’ Now, he didn’t know that I had to pack all my suitcase and clothes and stuff from in the little kitchenette along with the cot and clean up the bathroom and everything else, because I only had a little metal section there, but that was the start of the relationship with me and the team of Stratasys and really trying to drive additive and the additive industry, at least in the polymer and the composites side, towards the large structural, multifunctional vision and grow in the space of it. But that was also a different realm, I think, for them entering into the aerospace side of things, where my focus is, was then and still is today. So, it was kind of eye opening to them the requirements for additive in aerospace. And we kept telling them, well, if you can make it an aerospace, you can hit all the other industries as well, because our criteria is going to be very high, very staunch on how we’re going to have to hold on to our processes and our specifications, everything that we do with these materials.
I know then they started going out and bringing in other people because they just did not have the resources in-house of what that meant. And I believe Scott, if I recall right, that’s about when you started entering in as well, you also came out of the aerospace industry. Is that correct?
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SS: Yeah, so I definitely wasn’t the first, there were a number of aerospace people who joined before me, but it was around 2014, I had been working in aerospace my entire career. That’s where my education was, and where my interests had always lied, [I spent] a good portion of my career at Lockheed, and then I was at what at the time was going from Goodrich to United Technologies, it’s now part of Collins Aviation, and this job popped up at Stratasys. Looking for someone in the aerospace industry to kind of serve in a translator role, like explain to the aerospace industry what it is that Stratasys had to offer, explain to Stratasys what it is that the aerospace industry was asking for, and translate those requirements. So, that’s the opportunity that led me here, seven years ago now. It was very interesting coming to additive from aerospace, because it’s so massively different. I mean, the company size, I worked for 100,000, 150, 200,000 people companies, once UTC acquired Goodrich, to this leader in additive manufacturing, which had maybe about 2,000 people at the time. So very different scale, very different approach. And really, really interesting and exciting for me.
MH: So, in having the aerospace background, with the companies you were with, and now that you get to see a much broader base of industry users outside aerospace, but also within the aerospace, I get rather limited in what I’m looking at specifically for my Boeing platforms. But what do you see as the needs or the inhibitors of the growth of additive within aerospace?
SS: That is, I would say, a constantly evolving question. Even going back to when I was on the aerospace side, really before coming to Stratasys. The first time I saw additive, I was really not impressed. It was actually an FDM produced part off of Stratasys equipment and a business development guy that we worked with was showing off this little plastic model of the product, so the air data systems that we produced, and to me it was this flimsy piece of plastic that really served no purpose. I was very much in an engineering mindset. And prototyping for me meant it had circuit cards, it was a functional product. ‘What’s this thing? Yeah, it’s a cutaway view. That’s cute, now, let’s move on.’ I later kind of recognised the value in something like that, from a marketing standpoint, just looking at the internals of something and being able to describe physically but for my engineering mindset, this brings me no value: ‘3D printing, that’s cute.’
I ran into two more, I think, impactful experiences as I went on there, that started to show me that there was a stronger connection, and that there were more needs to be met. So first, it was actually using the same Stratasys piece of equipment, same ABS plastic, we were working on a product that was going on a carbon fibre fuselage and we had no way of aligning the air data probe. So, we had to come up with some sort of fixturing approach for alignment that didn’t disrupt the structure we’re working on. And we came up with a rather clever approach with fixturing with ABS plastic printed on a Stratasys piece of equipment. So I was like, ‘okay, this is more interesting.’ Seeing that flexibility, seeing that we could do something different, unique.
That went a step further, when I got involved in a programme for an engine temperature pressure sensor that required a cast part and casting procurements take forever, and this one had gotten screwed up. So, by the time I got involved in the project, we were six-eight months behind, there was no viable approach in front of us for the casting and we were scrambling to figure out how we make it to a test in about 16 weeks. And then we came across the ability to print a wax investment casting pattern and we immediately took nine weeks out of the schedule, and we were back in the bucket. We were figuring out how to move forward and, at that point, we were having a huge debate with our customer and this was, we were several tiers down, we were providing a sensor to a sensor harness that went into a higher assembly and all of this so we were really buried in the supply chain on this one. And our customer, even though we weren’t even trying to print the part that was going on the engine, we were just trying to print a tool to produce the part, there was a tremendous amount of pushback and scepticism about using additive at all in the process. And what I loved was, maybe it was a year, year and a half after that, that GE story came out with the printed engine nozzle, it was for the exact same engine. So here on the exact same engine, they qualified one of the first metal parts in production and aerospace on the same engine that we were fighting to use a printed investment casting pattern. I think that really got me excited for one, that here we had new technologies and new approaches that could make a difference in aerospace. But on the other side of it, there were these massive, massive problems around getting the right technological fit. And really that certification question and the ability to find paths to convince a necessarily conservative industry, that the value of the new technology wasn’t outweighed by the hassle of bringing it on board. And I think that continues to be the case, we look around the industry as there’s more and more technological fit as we bring in new technologies, especially as we bring in new materials and stabilise them, we still again and again really run into the biggest challenge being establishing that trust, establishing the fact that this technology isn’t just kind of the hype and marketing that you still see a lot of, but there is a level of maturity and a level of performance now that can help us qualify these parts and actually have customers see and benefit from it.
MH: I agree with you on all those statements. And then what I’ve experienced myself too is some of the early on, I’ll say the rapid prototyping, when people did put like a Stereolithography or some other material base somewhere, and it broke, or something happened to it, or they give it the old fashioned stress test by throwing it on the floor to see what happens to it, it causes a prejudice and actually makes it a little bit harder to overcome with data in showing that there is viability to the process, there is viability to the materials. But that’s part of the great challenge of where we are today is the processes and materials are getting to the point where you can use them reliably, safely with high enough quality for what we are wanting to use it for and provide value to, in our case, our customers, but also onto our shop floors and making things safer and easier for our mechanics as well.
Trying to get into the flight hardware side of it, where ultimately we are trying to go, is a bit more of a challenge and as you said, necessarily so, that we have to meet certain criteria before we’ll ever get that far. But again, the prejudices, I see that as being something that sometimes has held us back a little bit, especially as people that come on board that hear about the bad but aren’t well versed in it enough to really have a deep conversation to show here’s where the issues are and where the issues are not. One of the areas, I was going to ask this as kind of a general question, but as you get into this Stratasys role and you see, as you said, there’s an ever changing landscape with this, and you start hearing where the customer wants to go and specifically the aerospace customer goes, how do you work it inside your core competency versus what your customers – the Boeings, the Lockheeds, Northrops, Airbuses, everybody else – how do you include that into what you should be doing inside the walls of of a company like Stratasys?
SS: That I think has evolved as the company grew up and matured. And I think maybe that’s one of the big differences between some of the older, more established companies versus the startups. When you’re a startup, all you’ve got is that core competency, you’ve got something novel, something unique that you’re driving into the industry. But I don’t know, there’s probably some kind of sports analogy here, whether it’s lawn bowling or curling or something, I don’t know but you throw something out there, but that needs to refine in time. So, I think it comes back to how your relationship started with Stratasys, as well. Stratasys had something out there, it had FDM, a technology that can be very, very simple, or it can be very, very repeatable. There’s a very long, wide scale of what FDM is. But Stratasys invented it, Scott invented it, threw it out there but to get better, to get into these more challenging applications, we have to take feedback. You throw it out there, then you got to refine and get closer to where it actually needs to be as opposed to where you might have thought it needed to be. So, I think coming in, myself and others, from the aerospace industry – the company has done the same thing in the medical space – is take that technology, that core competency, and then learn from our customers and learn from that feedback to continue to refine it, really dial it in to meet the need. And I think, as we go from prototyping to manufacturing, that’s even more important, because with prototyping, you can take a technology and kind of adapt to fit your purposes, but when it comes to manufacturing, ultimately, the need of the application is going to drive the requirements, whether that’s the material requirements, the process requirements, any of that. So, focusing on our core competency early is definitely the way to start. But the maturation process, I think, comes down to listening to customers and tailoring to meet their needs.
MH: If I can interrupt there, I got to witness or watch a little bit of Stratasys, of the evolution of it. I wasn’t there at the beginning or a big part of Stratasys, but I got to see how they formed I’ll just say like a three legged stool, and I’ll kind of put you on the spot here a little bit, because Stratasys, they brought in the core competency of Fused Deposition Modelling, they had issues with material, so you have to control your material, because as we know in additive, it’s a garbage in garbage out process, if you get bad material, you’re going to have a bad part. You don’t necessarily get a good part by having good material, but you you have to start with good if not great material, if you’re going to at least get to a good part. So then you had to control your material, then there’s places nobody can go out and get FDM because there wasn’t a supply base. So then you started up, you being again Stratasys, started up a service as well, so you had formed this three legged stool of the machine or the equipment, the material and the services that go along with it. So you did kind of have to evolve, but I also know that there has been a lot of I don’t want to say criticism but chiding of the control of the material on the Stratasys side, and I’m sure you’ve heard it more than once when you visited conferences and I have to say early on, and even today, I liked Stratasys having the control because Boeing, we have a relationship where I knew we could have great material and that gave us a competitive edge on things. But at the same time, you want to grow your opportunities. And sometimes you just being limited by the menu of materials that Stratasys offers, is missing the boat on a number of other opportunities in other industries. So how does that fit in? I mean, eventually do you have to give that up and then go back to focus on the core competency or…?
SS: There’s, I would say, an immense balancing act that I think you really capture pretty well. So historically, we have been focused on performance. That’s kind of what sets Stratasys apart, we’re not the $100/$200 kit FDM printer that you can put together on your own and play with where we’re producing equipment that we’re intending for manufacturing, so driving for high repeatability and performance. And because of the nature of the process with the material being so integrally linked, you develop your material properties while you’re producing the part, we have focused on very tight control; literal years of tuning and tweaking a material before we put it out to market. Obviously, that is not something that is good for scaling to the tens of thousands of different material formulations that are out there, that might be the right fit for a specific product.
So, we’ve kind of focussed narrow, got really good narrow, and had conversations with customers again and again, that kind of walked both sides of that line, they’d love to have more materials, they’d love to have more control, and being able to tune the process themselves. They’d like to be able to second source materials and so forth. But at the same time, they want that performance and they want that lockdown control. So for a long time, we’ve been trying to figure out how to balance that, we’ve done some, I would say, pilots in that space. A couple years ago, we were talking about a partnership we set up with Solvay to work with a chemical company for the development of their material. We have, probably about seven or eight years ago, we acquired a supplier of ours, a compounder, so that we could get deeper into the tailoring of the materials itself. We balanced all around that space trying to figure out how we keep the performance, but really open up the aperture for the needs of our customers. I think we’re getting better at that. And as we’ve acquired some additional technologies here over the last year with our Neo SLA solution and our Origin DLP solution, both of those are coming in as open systems. So, now we’ve got FDM where we’re tight and closed down [Ed note: As of Formnext 2021, Stratasys has announced a more open approach to FDM materials], PolyJet the same way, and SLA and DLP where we’re coming in from an open standpoint, and we’re having a lot of discussion internally on taking the best aspects of those processes in order to move forward. I don’t think it forces us to kind of retreat to a core competency and say we’re just going to focus on the equipment. I think it requires us to continue to evolve and back to your earlier question, really continue to focus on what our customers need and how we can answer both of those needs, even if they seem a little contradictory in terms of both openness and control and performance.
SS: But Mike, you’re asking way too many questions about Stratasys, we’ve got to talk about Boeing, you’re way more interesting.
MH: [Laughs] I know about Boeing, I’m more curious about the Stratasys side.
We don’t want additive to fail. You don’t want that black eye because it continues to set the prejudice.
SS: Just a few minutes ago, you talked about going towards production and that being more of the intent, but the reality is Boeing has been putting parts on aircraft for more than a decade. So, maybe if you talk a little bit about some of those early applications, those early opportunities to push boundaries and get into that space and what that’s done to lay groundwork for where we want to go in the future.
MH: Yes, we have thousands, if not tens of thousands, of parts literally flying across the breadth of our platform and every one of them has, I’ll say, a story behind it. Hardly any of them were an easy transition, there was always something that we were battling with. But it always started with a need. And typically, what additive offered to us early on in our adoption of it was – you were referring to earlier just how quickly things could turn around for the investment cast patterns – and that’s kind of what we run into, in the cycle of aircraft fabrication you start with the big bone parts, and that’s where I resided in with the structural side of things, and then after that, then you have your systems designers come in and start stuffing it and then after that then you have your manufacturing engineers, have to plan it and get it all together and then you need to start building the vehicle. You want to get to the big bone things ordered up first because they are long lead times. The issue is when you start running into problems, the big bone and structural side starts to grow and grow, the schedule starts to slip a little bit, and that compresses other areas, mainly systems people and other manufacturers, they get under stress because your start date doesn’t really want to move on your production side. And so all of a sudden, you start running out of opportunity to manufacture things like environmental control system ducts, which required tooling. And the tooling lead time, I’ll say, is what helped the initial adoption of additive for some of our aircraft early on in the early 2000s, because we basically were running out of time to go get the tools in order to meet the schedule to get the production started. And that’s where we could really start. We saw the time savings, of course, there was a lot of data we had to go and get quickly to verify that the materials in the process would not just be suitable, but would exceed the performance requirements of the applications. But that’s how it was, necessity was this mother of invention to get it on.
And that’s where I’ve seen a lot of our additive transitions and replications of the technology is time, being able to get something a little faster, because it’s additive it’s not an unknown that there’s an expense to it. It’s not, you can print anything and print it cheaply, there’s a large cost to it. And every part that goes flying has to meet a business case for us. We are a business, and ultimately you want to make a profit on what you’re doing, so it has to show value at some point in time. And where we start seeing the issue is in the certification timeframe, getting parts certified to verify that you have a stable repeatable process, that you have a part in that the 100th part you print is the same as the first part that you print and how do you verify that, how do you do that? And there’s a cost to all that. In fact, that’s one of the big, I’ll say, inhibitors, but it’d be a great enabler, once we start really locking down those processes as Stratasys has done through the work at NIAR and through the work that’s been done with NAMI or America Makes, really starting to understand the process and lock it down, so we can validate the parts are stable and repeatable. But it takes time, it takes money, it takes energy to do that. But that’s also seeing that the additive equipment suppliers are all being involved in it, because I believe they know that they’re going to have to have that. So, they are being heavily involved with the different research centres that we’ve been a part of, which includes Stratasys also being a part of the Direct Manufacturing Research Centre over in Germany and NAMI here in the US and other ones as well. It’s been great conversations, but sometimes very heated conversations when we get in the room and say it’s not good enough. And then we’re asked to quantify that – ‘what does that mean, it’s not good enough? What is good enough?’ – in a way that we might not get to the perfection part, but we need something as close to perfect as we can. But it’s always a challenge, every part.
SS: That’s a really interesting point with regard to the ‘good enough.’ And I think that makes me want to ask the question – it’s a topic that you and I have covered a number of times – and that’s the polymer versus metal aspect. So certainly, a lot of the times when we’re looking at polymers, we’re looking at some less critical applications. So, we end up with a good enough that’s achievable as opposed to metals, which we of course see tremendous value in applying additive there. But such a higher bar because a good enough metal part, you probably don’t need metal for it. So, what are your thoughts on that? Where do you see the balance of focus and attention?
MH: Metal additive and polymer additive, it’s such a dichotomy. There’s so many common things to them, but then the differences is the challenge. Where I see issues on the polymer side aren’t necessarily the issues that I see on the metallic side. The metallic is, as you were just saying, your criticality of your parts are increasing – if I’m putting it on a titanium part, there’s a reason I’m putting on a titanium part. If I’m going to go to the expensive titanium, there’s a reason for that and therefore, the criticality you need to meet and make sure you again exceed all the performance requirements of that part. And the confidence just isn’t there for that right now, because the issue… I’ve had this conversation a couple times where composite people – this might sound bad – but composite people are used to having defects in their part because composites are a material, as you said before, it’s a combination of the material with the process is what sets your material properties. So you can get it to where you have little bits of voids, disbonds or other areas, and you can know how to detect it. And you can do entire studies on the effects of the defects and what is acceptable, what is not acceptable.
My metallic brethren aren’t so forgiving for having defects in their forgings. Yes, they do have them, again there’s no such thing as perfection, but they’re not used to that as much and so when you’re machining down a big forging, your properties were set early on. Now you have a metallic structure, similar to casting in that you have material and process setting your material properties, that’s a little harder for them to grasp to think that I might have voids in the middle of this and I can’t tell, I don’t know if I do or not. But I also point out that additive adds, I’ll say, a third dimension, because it’s not just your material in your process that set your material properties, it’s your material in your process at the voxel level. Every single voxel inside that build has a different property than the one right next to it. Because it saw a different temperature, it saw a different something that helps change the property of it. Now, it’s very minute in areas but the same time, it’s not the same. And so how do you predict what that is? How do I know that the tenth metallic part that I printed, is the same as the first metallic part, and maybe it’s in a different machine, maybe it was with a different laser, maybe it was with a different something, but even if everything is all the same, they still are a little bit different. Because your laser power varies, there are different processes besides laser, but the energy changed during that time. So getting the confidence that you know what you have at the end is the biggest hurdle that we have to really embrace the metal side and really take advantage of metal additive, because what I see is that we’re not really getting to take the full advantage of additive, because we have to force upon not having the full confidence, we put knockdowns into our analysis, we basically say we don’t trust this enough so therefore, we’re going to boost our confidence by knocking down our properties by a certain percentage, a relatively large percentage, which therefore you’re not taking full advantage of additive in its weight, or its performance because of the confidence variation. So, the metal side is challenged in that regard because of the the knock downs that they’re going to have to see and then not be able to get the full advantage of additive.
I mean, we’re not getting full performance out of the polymer parts either because you take your low property values and size for that, and therefore your parts are really going to be heavier, because ultimately, right now, we don’t want additive to fail. You don’t want that black eye because it continues to set the prejudice. We don’t want any of our platforms to fail, but at the same time, we don’t want additive to be a part of any failure as well. Even if it’s some minute light switch that has no criticality at all, we don’t want to see a crack in that part, so we’re going to design it so over the life of that part, it’s not going to crack, because we’re trying to prove out the process.
SS: From thinking about the maturation of the technology and the history that we’ve had advancing polymer and trying to reduce those knock downs on polymer, and looking at having to continue to work on that on the metal side as well, that’s going to continue to take time. But at the same time as we’re maturing these technologies that are out there, there continues to be new needs, new ideas from the industry in terms of what we could do with the technology as well as what new ideas from our customers in terms of what they want to do with the technology. So where do you see us going? Where do you see, as an aerospace additive segment of the industry, the ball moving towards?
MH: I think it’s gonna keep heading, I won’t say the way it’s going, everybody’s kind of doing what they need to have done and doing a great job with it. I’ll say a lesson even from last year – and Stratasys was a big part of it, America makes and others were as well – was during the pandemic issues and the medical equipment side of things, people came along and started printing the face shields and other medical equipment. And I know people can question the validity of the cost of the face shields and all the other parts of the face shields, but they provided face shields – I’m just using face shields as one of the examples – they provided them, they had them there. And it demonstrated the value of additive with its distributed supply chain where everybody started flipping on and all of a sudden they started making these face shields. The issue being, one thing that it demonstrated also was that you needed the standards so that the face shields were relatively the same or could be used interchangeably.
So, where I kind of see it moving, is that people are going to continue using it for what they need to go use it for, but at the same time, I’ll see the ASTMs coming on board and really starting to set the standards of what the industry needs to be. And you’ll see more and more of these kind of distributed supply chains, where you can turn on a whole group of people all at once and get something relatively fast and meet either emergency needs or just any general consumer type needs. And I see more and more of that coming on board, especially as they become more understood, I’ll say a little less expensive, and in the materials and the equipment and possibly the post-process that goes along with it, that adds to the cost of it. So the standards of that. And I’ll be curious, are you seeing that as well, when you start looking at it? Are you seeing people wanting to say hey come together for the greater good of additive and help us set the standards for additive? Are you seeing that currently?
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SS: I think the standards activity really started before the pandemic.
MH: It did.
SS: The work we had done, for example, with NIAR that led them to an SAE spec in the 7100 that’s out now, that predated the pandemic. So I think there was always that need known that we had to get to the point where it became a standard. What I saw, and actually, I had a conversation, it was someone within Boeing procurement that really, I think captured the impact of the pandemic very well for me. And this person in procurement had no experience with additive prior to having to be involved with sourcing tens of thousands, or producing tens of thousands of face shields for the government. And the gut reaction was a great analogy. They said, my background is as an engineer, I think of manufacturing as almost a hydraulic motor, it takes time to build up to speed, but it has immense power. Additive isn’t that. Additive is more like an electric motor, you flip a switch, and suddenly you have capacity. And you can flip the switch and turn it on, turn it off and change very quickly. It’s never going to be as powerful as that hydraulic motor of traditional manufacturing, but it gives you this immense flexibility and ability to do something different. Aerospace isn’t known as a nimble industry, generally speaking.
SS: But over the course of a weekend, a company like Boeing switched from producing fixtures for assembly of aircraft to producing tens of thousands of face shields. And then when the need had moved on, or the tooling was now there to injection mould those parts more cheaply, then they could stop and go back to doing something different. So, I think what it did in that regard is open eyes of maybe the unaware or the sceptical that, hey, there’s some value here from a supply chain standpoint that maybe we weren’t giving it the credit it deserved.
MH: And that’s a valid point, the flexibility of additive. You get into the supply chain, you have a machine now that can do things, all sorts of things. They can make your little trinkets and little desktop models, they can turn around and make a qualified shop tool, then turn around and make a part that’s going to go fly on a commercial aircraft, out of the same machine. And that is a challenge, that’s something that can be a struggle. But once you can embrace that, I think it does kind of open up the opportunities for the suppliers, but also for the aircraft OEMs as well.
SS: And actually, I’d say it even goes beyond supply chain and OEMs. But we see the operators in the aftermarket, looking at the technology in a whole ‘nother way as well. I remember conversations going back a couple years where a business jet manufacturer shared that they had billions of dollars in inventory, stationed around the world so that a demanding client could get apart very quickly and wasn’t going to get hung up at customs. So as a result, I mean, they had this distributed inventory, that was a nightmare, because the parts were never in the right spot, they always had either too many or too few, you never could plan that perfectly and it was always just an attempt to get as good as you could. And now as the technology is mature, the big question for them is can I place manufacturing capability out in the field? Can I get more distributed in my manufacturing capability and supply virtually as opposed to trying to stock a guess at the right number of parts all over the place? And I think there is definite opportunity in that. I think it’s going in a good direction. But it’s highlighting, it’s coming back to that certification question because now you’ve got these operators and these sustainers that were never manufacturers before. They’ve never produced a part and had to go certify it, they bought a part from a tier one, tier two, a PMA, a provider and they were buying these parts and they were very, very good at managing logistics, but now they’re trying to push so far forward in the sustainment stream that they have to suddenly figure out how to get good at qualifying parts with airworthiness authorities who are just starting to get comfortable with the technology.
MH: That is definitely the challenge, early on we learned the hard way that it is much easier to train an aerospace supplier in additive than it is to train an additive supplier into aerospace requirements. There’s so much more paperwork involved. I’ve had the opportunity – I do have flight parts on space vehicles, cargo vehicles, commercial vehicles, rotorcraft, fighter craft, ground vehicles and maritime vehicles – and so I’ve got to deal with all the different certification processes and the people and what you learn basically is that it’s about a relationship, having with them a trusting relationship to know that the person who has to sign off on this trusts you, trusts your company, trusts the data that it generated and trusts the testing that you’re doing is going to validate, what that part is going to see in service. And it is building up that relationship. So getting all the different suppliers on board and all the different airworthiness requirements or criticalities lined up is a challenge but I’ll say it’s a welcoming challenge. It’s been a fun ride. I don’t think the ride’s over but I’ve been very thankful to Boeing for the opportunity to run with additive manufacturing, additive technology for so many years. They’ve been a great company to me and a number of other people to pursue this technology and do what we can to improve it for our platforms and for the additive industry and for the nation and for the world to make everything better.
SS: Absolutely. And I’ve got to say Stratasys is also very thankful to Boeing, I certainly don’t think that we would have gone as deep or as fast as we have into aerospace and been successful the way we are without Boeing and you personally, taking the time to help us kind of reposition that focus and take FDM and steer it towards its potential within aerospace. So that’s been, like you said, incredibly fun. I don’t think you get too many opportunities to be part of creation of new technologies that can have the kind of impact additive can and we always struggle with that balance of hype versus reality, there continues to be a lot of excitement in new technologies popping up, new materials popping up and all of this stuff that gets a lot of attention. And then behind the scenes, there’s literal decades of work to mature technologies for the reality of additive and being able to do the things that all that hype promises.
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