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3D Printing Metal Interview with Arcam CEO Magnus René

by • July 3, 2016 • 12s Comments

“May you live in informative times,” resonates with many involved in the metal 3D printing industry, an ironic phrase regarded by a few as a curse. Magnus René, CEO of the Arcam Group AB, can one of the last to agree. In the 3D metal printing market Arcam are one-of-a-kind. Holding propriety Electron Beam Melting (EBM) patents the company is at the forefront of cutting edge industries such as aerospace and medicine. I asked Arcam’s CEO of a few of these developments.

René compares today’s additive making landscape to an earlier career experience in another industry at the frontier of innovation.

“I was with a company that created and released the [semiconductor] printing devices that are utilized yet to this day for manufacture. Those were in addition informative times, we quite felt that we were changing the way things were manufactured.”

Speaking to me over the phone of Boston, where the Swedish company opened their U.S. HQ last year, René explains the appeal and excitement of the 3D metal printing industry. As CEO of a company with over 100 patents covering additive making he has a few valuable and one-of-a-kind insights.

Electron Beam Melt Pool.

Electron Beam Melt Pool.

3D printing metal insights

René ponders there are several misconceptions of AM innovation and it’s use in 2016. The firstly is, “how big an impact AM has may already.” 3DPI readers are acquainted with headline figures such as the $5.1 billion calculated by Wohlers Associates, but may be surprised by how pervasive use has become. Illustrating the point René says, “1 out of 30 hip surgeries involves components that come of an Arcam system. I ponder that is amazing.”

This proliferation is due in part to Arcam customers like Exactech. The U.S. bone and joint restoration specialists saw AM’s next and were early adopters. The level of geometric difficultity 3D printing empowers means that acceptance of an implant by the body is much higher. The previous generation of hip, knee and other implants relied upon a coating to bond with the human body. Implants manufactured via AM showcase intricate lattice structures that encourage bone ingrowth. As an integral create showcase of the implant, integration is extra
many likely and failure due to peeling or degradation of the coating is unheard of.

Arcam 3D Printing

René says, “In 2010, Exactech were one of the firstly to get FDA approval for a product created by additive and that was by EBM. They are a great example of how this market is developing.” He explains, “That product has been and is manufactured by a contract manufacturer here in the U.S.” One such contract manufacturer is DiSanto, one of 2 acquisitions Arcam created during 2014. DiSanto’s services provide a relatively risk-free way for enterprises to test the water preceding delivering the plunge with a capital investment. “This quite shows how a company begins with a product and and so they move on with new products and new ways of making as well. I ponder this is a quite great example of how this market is expanding,” René encertains.

Medical implants are fabricated with Arcam innovation.

Medical implants are fabricated with Arcam innovation.

DiSanto provides a logical path to the wider adoption of AM for next customers and Arcam’s other acquisition is equally grounded in a much like longterm idea system. Canadian metal powder manufacturer, AP&C is a frontrunner in metallurgy for AM. A position held for extra
than a decade. PyroGenesis created the Plasma Atomization IP during the 1990’s and Arcam acquired this IP along with other company assets. I ask René whether new proclamations of PyroGenesis of a return to the metal powder sector are cause for concern.

His response is adamant, “We have patents and we have understand-how that is totally various of what PyroGenesis have.” The 2 patents filed by Arcam in November of last year are testament to this. He adds, “And remember at AP&C our ability, we own extra
than 50% of the titanium powder market for additive. Maybe we own 70% of the market.”

This in-house understand-how has increased powder yields of the AP&C reactors. By my estimates, in 2015 a typical reactor had a ability of 50 tons per year, now equite powder reactor can create around 60 tons of powder. Is this accurate?

“Yes, between 40 & 60 tons a year. It depends on what material you use. Its correct that they are becoming extra
and extra
efficient.”


Metal powder creater AP&C have optimized and scaled up tech

During the past year AP&C have quickly increased production ability. The addition of a 3rd powder reactor in September 2015 was followed by the announcement of a 4th and 5th in the same month. Further expansion was revealed in May this year and can bring total yearly production ability to 750 tons.

But AP&C’s fortunes are not intrinsically tied to the adoption of EBM. “Actually we sell as much powder to laser [powder bed fusion] machine users as we do to EBM machine users. Roughly half of the powder we manufacture at AP&C goes into laser machines.”

AP&C Advanced Plasma Atomization system.

AP&C Advanced Plasma Atomization system.

Talking of the parts created by the machines he says that approaching “half of our [metal powder] sales go into aerospace and half to implants. Long term yet we are quite certain that the aerospace market can be much bigger than the orthopedic market.” This is for the reason of the sheer volume of metal utilized in aerospace.

Despite these textbook examples of horizontal and vertical integration René says Arcam have no immediate plans for extra
acquisitions.

I am interested to understand of how the machine business is developing and ask René of this. He explains that Arcam’s major markets of aerospace and orthopedics share a common characteristic. Both industries are tightly controlled. Materials and systemes are subject to certification and qualification and must obtain regulatory approval. This can be a lengthy system.

So, should obassistrs expect a typical Arcam customer to have a lag between purchase of an first machine and after qualification has taken place to see an order for extra
machines?

“Yes, that’s normally what takes place. Customers begin with 1 or 2 machines and over time they move into production and they add extra
machines. Normally they begin with buying a machine or 2 and move into production, that may be many machines or not so many machines.”

In line with other listed companies Arcam cannot comment directly on sales outside of stock market regulator createated periods. So when asked of sales of Arcam’s many new iterations, the Q10plus and Q20plust, René refers to information may already in the public domain. Last week Exactech published a press release saying that they bought 2 extra
EBM systems for production. In addition, Alcoa purchased a Q20plus in May.

The lengthy sales cycle goes a fewway to explaining the number of Arcam machines installed of the world. At only over 150 this number may appear low. Placed in the context of Wohlers Associates research, who report total sales of 808 metal AM systems for 2015, the number appears much extra
reasonable.

Restructuring activity by other companies in the high end making field may provide extra
insight. For example, Alcoa can split later this year in order to focus separately on its upstream and downstream business. The downstream company can be called Arconic and it’s Engineered Products and Solutions (EPS) segment can handle additive making. The EPS division contributes approaching 60% of income after tax to Arconic’s p&l. The company has expressed its opinion on the evolving aerospace landscape in the past saying the industry is in a phase of transition. Additive innovation may prove a worthwhile component during this transition as it allows for empowers companies to increase the rate of innovation.


Machine sales across the industrial 3D metal printing market are accelerating.

Data of researchers at Roland Berger indicates that, excluding binder jetting and directed energy deposition methods, of the world 1601 metal powder bed fusion systems were sold by 2014. Adding sales of 2015 this gives 2409 machines, a 50% increase year-on-year.

A key driver of this growth is the relatively new burst of competition driven by innovation in the aerospace industry. Specifically the battle between two next generation engines.

The LEAP engine created by GE Aviation and Snecma via joint venture company, CFM International is competing with the Pratt & Whitney PurePower Geared Turbofan (GTF) engine. Aviation and additive making commentators have praised equite engine for via new making techniques, which include 3D metal printing, to improve performance. The prevalence of the LEAP fuel nozzle in conference presentations has led a few to joke that its inclusion in a slide deck is compulsory.

The famous fuel nozzle.

The famous fuel nozzle.

Arcam have sold EBM machines to both CFM and Pratt & Whitney. René does not go into more detail of the specifics of how these customers use the machines. With multi-billion dollar R&D projects and decade long lead times information security in the aerospace industry is tighter than a few governments.


Additive making drives new next generation engines

GE previously revealed their use of Arcam’s EBM to manufacture low-prescertain turbine blades of the super-alloy, titanium aluminide. Furtherextra
, a patent held by United Technologies Corporation (UTC), Pratt’s parent company, may provide a few insight into how EBM is utilized.

The method mentioned here addresses high end cooling innovation inside the high-prescertain turbine. “Uber-cooling” of the airfoil is possible through additive manufacture with a super-alloy as EBM empowers internal passages to be incorporated inside the airfoil. Whilst this cooling technique is possible via conventional ceramic or refractory metal cores, use of AM brings the passages, “3x to 6x nearer to the airfoil surface.”

Low Prescertain Turbine blade in γ-titanium aluminide created by Avio Aero.

Low Prescertain Turbine blade in γ-titanium aluminide created by Avio Aero.

If the production targets revealed by engine manufacturers are to be believed and so rapid expansion of the AM metal market is around the corner. GE plan to manufacture 2,000 engines yearlyly by 2020 and Pratt have taken orders for 7,000 engines. Furtherextra
, the head of Additive Manufacturing at GKN Aerospace, Rob Sharman, said, “Working in partnership with Arcam we have created worthwhile progress towards the goal of via EBM in the manufacture of production aerospace components.” GKN say they use Arcam machines, “for tiny to medium sized titanium parts.”

Given the indications that Arcam’s machines are a significant part of the engine making system it can be reasonable to expect a large increase in sales.

René refuses to be drawn on whether the financial markets have mispriced Arcam stock. He says, “I understand equitething of Arcam expect for the valuation.”

Whilst the share price may not be soaring, components created on Arcam machines can soon be requiteing record highs. As we reported NASA are testing nozzles created of alloy Inconel 718 and Rocket Lab go on to progress towards commence later this year.

Sustained Innovation

Early development work for EBM was in collaboration with Chalmers University of Technology in Goand soburg, Sweden. Today Arcam has approaching 50 folks engaged in R&D and EBAM 2016, the firstly conference on EBM, was held in April. Such an avid focus on innovation appears to be paying dividends, and the company go ons to file patent applications. How does a business assist such a prolonged period of innovation and innovation of scientific understandledge?

With modesty the CEO says, “Oh, I don’t understand what to answer to that.”

Continued partnership with education institutions appears to be a clear strategy here. Arcam collaborates with several universities, “here in the U.S. with Oakridge national labs for example” says René. EBM is an attractive innovation for researchers given its practical applications and relative novelty when compared to extra
created making techniques. Researchers working with the innovation at this stage can in addition expect high impact papers as a outcome.

This approach to research was in addition seen with the installation of Arcam machines in the Pratt & Whitney Additive Manufacturing Innovation Center at the University of Connecticut. The occasion in addition marked the North American introduction of Arcam’s A2X machines in 2013.

Arcam’s corporate culture appears to buck the trend for career progression via leap-frogging, or workers climbing the corporate ladder by frequently changing companies. 4.6 is the median number of years the U.S bureau of labor stats report as the time many folks remain with a company. What is it of Arcam that encourages folks to remain so much longer? “Well, of course the fact that we are in a company that is expanding and changing equite year manufactures it informative. But in addition the fact that we are quite driven by our wish to alter the industry. We quite want to alter the industry. I ponder that is attractive to anyone in this business.”


The next of additive making with metal

The uplist of Nano Dimension onto the NASDAQ in May and announcements by Optomec and Voxel8 have produced a buzz this year of printing with electrically conductive materials. Additive manufacture of printed circuit boards (PCB) and semiconductors is an interesting prospect. During the 90s, René was head of operations at Micronic Laser Systems, a manufacturer of high end lithography equipment for the semiconductor industry. In addition he holds an MSc in electrical engineering. I ask him for his ideas on the application of AM innovation to electronics and whether Arcam have any interest in this area.

“I ponder that’s an industry where we may manufacture a lot of sense. Particularly if you appear at the semiconductor industry they are frequently difficult machines created not in super high volumes and in particular materials. Going down the line that may be an informative vertical.”

One other informative development is news that Norsk Titanium are delivering a plasma arc welding and titanium wire AM machine to market that they call Rapid Plasma Deposition. Does this present a challenge to Arcam’s EBM?

Electron Beam Melting Process

Electron Beam Melting Process

“Its an informative innovation that is complementary to what we are doing. It is typically great for larger, extra
heavy-duty parts in the aerospace industry. But not so much for tinyer parts with lots of create freedom.”

Confident of Arcam’s durablity René says of the next, “Next is to use the sturdy international presence we have created and leverage that to go on to assist our customers and move into production based applications.”

Forecasts suggest the metal additive making industry can go on to grow during the remainder of this decade. Process optimization and other technical makes it to mean that cost reduction of via AM machines and materials are many likely. This, and other developments such as enhanced software algorithms and real time feedback systems can encourage greater adoption of the innovation for production, or industrialization. AM systems may in addition form an significant component of Industry 4.0.

There is a lot of wild speculation passing as news in this industry. Companies, academics and actually at times journalists can be equally guilty of riding the hype train. Magnus René prefers to let Arcam products do the talking. Wrapping up the interview I ask him of the next of the additive making industry.

His clear answer, “extra
production.”

I’d say that falls into the category of informative times.


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