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Powering up additive manufacturing for serial production

Siemens Energy was spun off to be a leader across the complete energy generation chain. AM is going to play a major part.

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About a year ago, Siemens took the next step in its structural realignment and Siemens Energy went public on the Frankfurt Stock Exchange as a leader in the transmission and generation of electrical power. As such, Siemens Energy is now one of the largest adopters and – via its fully-owned Materials Solutions – a leading provider of advanced, metal, digital additive mass production services. Combined, Siemens Energy is now running as many as 90 industrial metal 3D printers across various sites: most of them are used to serially manufacture gas turbine parts. As Vice President Additive Manufacturing at Siemens Energy and Materials Solutions, Markus Seibold oversees the new company’s additive production programs. We met with Mr. Seibold ahead of his AMTC panel, on the “Roadmap to Implement AM Successfully”, where he presented the latest Siemens Energy case studies, to learn more about the company’s new asset and strategy.

“On one side we have Siemens AG, which is the part of the business that is building the additive software that we use at Siemens Energy for machine automation. On the other we now have the component-making business, which includes Materials Solutions,” he explains. “Almost all the printers used in Siemens Energy, both the ones used for internal production and the ones used to provide services at Materials Solutions, have been used to develop technology and produce components for gas turbine applications.”

Siemens Energy is today possibly the largest AM adopter in the energy segment, and the company is contributing to making the energy segment one of the largest verticals in all of AM. “If you count all additive technologies, including LMD, we now have over 400 material masters qualified for serial production. And for PBF, which is the highest growth technology in additive, we have over 100 qualified energy industry applications.

These are numbers that could challenge aerospace’s leading role as an AM vertical. In terms of serial production applications, only GE has so far developed massive serial final parts applications for its GE9X and LEAP engines: these are mostly focused on the nozzles and titanium alumide blade and other parts developed at Avio Aero and no comparably-sized additive programs have emerged recently in the aerospace segment.

Learning to DfAM

“We now have literally hundreds of AM parts integrated in our SAP system”, Seibold confirms, clarifying that “when they are ordered they go directly to a 3D printer. We have been doing this for more than a decade and, even if used to call it cladding, these are serial additively manufactured parts.”

Siemens Energy was spun off to be a leader across the energy generation chain. Markus Seibold explains how AM fits with Materials Solutions
Siemens’ 3D printed gas burner for the SGT-700 gas turbine

Siemens Energy is emerging as a major AM user that wants to drive the adoption of additive. Seibold has implemented three strategic directions to achieve this goal. The first is to continue to invest in understanding the potential of the technology. That means technology development and learning how to design for the AM process. Under Seibold’s direction, the company has built a team of over 30 engineers, spread across various locations, that are 100% dedicated to implementing DfAM. “This is pretty unique,” he says. “We decided three years ago that the only way we were going to get components for AM was if we had people designing specifically for them. Many companies talk about the education and the tools that are needed to transition to AM, but they often don’t fully understand what it takes to implement it.” Siemens Energy created these 30 new positions in DfAM for heat transfer engineers and mechanical engineers shifted 30 people internally from their current jobs to designing for AM. “What we did not do,” Seibold says, “is replace those 30 people in their previous positions. So we created a sort of a vacuum that needed to be filled by using AM.”

The second element in Siemens Energy’s AM strategy is to get more and more DfAM components ready to be produced via AM. Today the company has 100 parts that are produced via PBF and a total of 400 qualified parts to be manufactured additively for serial production. “Even the PBF parts are all serial parts,” Seibold confirms. “Some are produced in lower quantities, but some are already in the order of several thousands of units per year. Now the goal is to get to over 1000 qualified applications.”

This part of Siemens Energy’s strategy is focused on Materials Solutions operating as a stand-alone AM service provider. As such it is a competitor to other service providers like Oerlikon, Morf3D, Sintavia or BEAMIT. Materials Solutions revenues are equally split between outsourced manufacturing services and services provided specifically Siemens Energy applications.

“We believe that there are so many challenges that we need to address that we should solve them together with others. Through Materials Solutions we are learning how we can drive innovation, while we develop technologies and new, innovative materials,” Seibold explains. “We can form partnerships between Siemens Energy and external customers, leveraging Materials Solutions to drive the technology development. Materials Solutions is a catalyst for innovation as we believe that to seriously play in the AM industry you need to be exposed to the innovation and serialization needs of multiple external customers.”

Siemens Energy was spun off to be a leader across the energy generation chain. Markus Seibold explains how AM fits with Materials Solutions
Siemens 3D printed and validated the first gas turbine blade in 2017

The road to 1,000 qualified AM parts

The third element, which also serves the goal of expanding the number of 3D printable applications to over 1,000, is to start working with an external supply chain in order to be able to cope with volumes. Whereas the first two steps are based on internal capabilities, within what Seibold defines as a “Make” strategy, this third aspect is based on optimizing collaborations with external suppliers. And this is where issues such as repeatability and standardization become more pressing.

“To go from the 100 qualified material masters to over 1,000 we would need an additional 100 printers, and we will not invest into 100 additional printers ourselves, at least not in the short term,” he says. “We will continue to build our own footprint for those components where we believe we have a unique technology proposition. We will also want to keep some manufacturing IPs internal. But for many components that will come, we will go to an external additive production provider.”

Siemens Energy was spun off to be a leader across the energy generation chain. Markus Seibold explains how AM fits with Materials Solutions
A batch of serial AM parts produced by Siemens Energy.

Although many companies, even those who have internalized multiple AM processes, do plan to implement supply chain solutions for their AM needs, doing so additive presents many new challenges as well as many new opportunities.

Seibold agrees: “Today AM is a unique technology that lets you create geometries that you couldn’t do in a conventional way. But when we are successful in maturing it, AM will become just another manufacturing process, where instead of going to a foundry to cast parts or a mill to CNC them, you go to an AM service provider to print them. Existing parts suppliers will increasingly add additive capabilities to meet new demand once the applications are there.

“So that brings us back to procurement—Seibold continues. We are debating whether we should go about it in a traditional way, where we consult with four or five different companies to get a price and select one. But we are also thinking about going at this in a more innovative way, by implementing a digital platform business model: a place where you go and aggregate parts demand, then automatically send it to whoever has space to produce it.”

As the most digital manufacturing technology, AM is ideally suited for this approach. 3D printers are more connected and there is more part data available than ever before. Many AM service providers have created networks to combine AM capabilities into international entities: now it’s a matter of connecting different large production service providers with the companies that need parts made. But can this really be implemented to produce the same, repeatable parts across many different providers?

Siemens Energy was spun off to be a leader across the energy generation chain. Markus Seibold explains how AM fits with Materials Solutions
The Siemens Material Solutions AM Factory in Worchester

“Today AM is not repeatable, not even in the same machine, for the same part, in the same job,” Seibold concedes. “We don’t have the applications to drive volume production and the technology does not support it. But this will be solved.”

At the same time, he points out, additive will continue to offer unique opportunities, as a new, “additional” technology, with no established legacy and thus no incumbent manufacturing processes. The supply chain for additive is free to evolve over the next three years. “We will implement a new vision for 2025 onwards because we will have applications, we will have volumes and we will have many different machines,” Seibold concludes.

The process is already underway. Today Siemens Energy is a major user of EOS technology, having purchased one of the first EOS printers in 2008. This technology is now being optimized for most serial production needs, while new technologies are now being introduced for specific applications. “Over time you develop your processes and then your material database on a certain underlying technology. If you change your machine, you change your manufacturing process and you most likely have to requalify some of your material data. We know how EOS machines work. We have qualified our processes and materials based on that design that understanding. We want to keep the process stable because it would add another variable.”

Some of the new machines being introduced for specific applications include systems from Renishaw and Trumpf.  “When we need new technology, be that for new materials, for a new application or for larger builds we look at what the industry currently has to offer and evaluate it. If we decide that there’s a different machine suit a particular part family, we begin the industrialization of that part on that platform. At Materials Solutions, we have now selected a Renishaw system for the high throughput productivity of smaller parts applications. In Berlin, we now have a Trumpf 5000 system which we are testing for industrial reliability and capability. It’s an ongoing, long-term process.

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Davide Sher

Since 2002, Davide has built up extensive experience as a technology journalist, market analyst and consultant for the additive manufacturing industry. Born in Milan, Italy, he spent 12 years in the United States, where he completed his studies at SUNY USB. As a journalist covering the tech and videogame industry for over 10 years, he began covering the AM industry in 2013, first as an international journalist and subsequently as a market analyst, focusing on the additive manufacturing industry and relative vertical markets. In 2016 he co-founded London-based VoxelMatters. Today the company publishes the leading news and insights websites and, as well as VoxelMatters Directory, the largest global directory of companies in the additive manufacturing industry.

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