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Star Trek Replicators? How Additive Manufacturing is Changing the Industry

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

We’re a lot closer to having a bona fide Star Trek replicator than you might think.


Sure, we’re not to the point where you can just press a button and a part — or maybe a steak and some Romulan ale — will materialize out of nowhere. However, additive manufacturing has finally matured to such a degree that 3D printing is feasible for manufacturing applications.


Blake Teipel, Cofounder and CEO at Essentium, shares how additive manufacturing is bringing agility and adaptability to manufacturers and product developers.


We discuss:

- What additive manufacturing is

- Building a team vs finding partners

- Electromagnetic energy and electrically conductive plastics


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The technology is right per prime time because in large part we've been able to solve this really classic, multidecade long problem around making d printing parts strong in all directions. You are listening to over the Air Iot connected devices and the journey, brought to you by vary. In each episode we have sharp, unfiltered conversations with executives about their IOT journeys, the mistakes they made, the lessons they learned and what they wish they'd known when they started. Welcome back to over the Air IOT connected devices in the journey. My name is Ryan prossers, CEO vary, and today we're joined by Blake type, cofounder and CEO of sentium. We're going to be talking about d printing versus additive manufacturing. What you need to know, and I'm using air quotes, is additive manufacturing real this time. Blake, thanks for being on the show. Man, Ryan, it's great to speak with you. Yeah, I'm looking for to our conversation. Thanks for having me. So, I bet so. We're recording this in July two thousand and twenty one. The world is moving fast. You know, maybe a few months from now it will not be this but I think a lot of people are saying. I've heard of DPRINTING, I'm not as familiar with additive manufacturing. What's the distinction and what is the person needs, not tree. You educate people on this all the time. Follow up question is going to be like, where do you guys fit in the added of manufacturing landscape? But a bit of education first. Yeah, that's awesome rhyme. So the way I try to draw a distinction, and there is a distinction and it's both useful and it's also just dumb, and so sometimes I even use the two to the two terms interchangeably, but I'll try to to my best to to again draw that distinction for folks in a way that makes sense. So d printing is a technology that pretty much everybody has seen in the world now. You sort of imagine that you know your you've got a little a little desktop machine or some printer and you're building...

...apart and you get this little widget or it's a toy or it's a Yoda head or an Eiffel Tower or or some little device that is fun, or it's a chatch key. Usually d printing is useful to sort of get people interested in engineering or get people interested in the stem disciplines, and so it's used a lot in educational contexts. But added of manufacturing is a extension, is an it's an extension of DPRINTING into a manufacturing context. We're basically making the part. Is Only part of the journey and in fact, I would argue, one of the least important parts of the journey. You go from a design to the prepared file to the printing of the part. That's like the third or maybe one of the middle steps. Then you pull the part off the machine and you do post processing of the part to clean it up. Then you actually are inspecting the part to see, hey, was this produced properly, and then you're usually storing data around that part, like how many instances were printed, how many good instances out of the total batch? What was your yield? And then you are tracking, of course, the economics, the life cycle and the costs for each of those steps. And so the D printing part is a middle part of the additive manufacturing process. Now the good news is that additive manufacturing is very similar to actual manufacturing. Right if we think about the built environment in which we all live, we have planes, trains, cars, computers, shoes, apparel, phones, tablets, Alexa, etc. These are all devices produced on supply chains, in factories, in an actual manufacturing context. And so, when I think about the moment in time in which we find ourselves now, the thing that gets me excited and out of the out of bed every day is the fact that d printing has matured to the point where it is now finally ready to be relevant industrially in a manufacturing context. And so for that reason I'm super jazzed about added manufacturing and what that means for supply chains, factories and eventually consumer parts everywhere. So before I've a thousand follow up questions, but talk...

...about like where you guys fit in that landscape. So, you know, a centium is focused on which slice of that world? Yeah, so our products today are are center laser focus parts that used to be injection molded or even are currently injection molded or their machined out of plastic, and there are many different types of parts that are, you know, produced in this sort of classical sense. These are examples, again, of subtractive manufacturing or traditional manufacturing. And so for an injection molded part, if you think about you know, like your are pods or your again, many different devices that you have on your desk, like your mouse, where your computer. These are all composed of plastic parts that are injection molded, and so injection molding is a very common manufacturing technique. It's useful for producing millions of parts that are all exactly the same, and so we're added. Of Manufacturing comes in is, let's say I would like to produce tenzero parts that are different from the next tenzero parts, which are different from the tenzero parts in the badge that follows after that. Injection molding struggles a lot to quickly turn over or change designs between those different types of badges, and so we're added in manufacturing really takes root, whereas sentiams focused is how do we engage with manufacturing clients and contexts that are sort of midrange, mid range volumes, and how do we really increase the agility with which these customers can change designs or be adaptive or agile or pivotal in a product mix? You know, the CNC milling part is also very common for, in particular, like jigs and fixtures and tools that are used inside out of factories every day all over the world, and these fixturing devices are usually used to support or guide or, you know, hold in place the part that's being machined and used by the consumer at the end of the day. So even those parts themselves, the fixtures for example,...

...or the jigs, those really should be printed in in fact, with a centium and others. You know, you get D printed jigs and fixturing or additively manufactured jigs and fixturing, and then your factories can be more responsive, they can cut their costs and they can, you know, change designs and respond to consumer sentiment as it as it changes. It never correct me if I'm wrong. I didn't hear you mention it, but I remember talking about it in our pre interview. You guys have kind of a bent in the direction of Arrow right, like you guys are doing quite a bit of work with things that fly. Is that how I oversimplified that to the like? Is that broadly correct? That is probably correct, and so, you know, getting pardon upon, but part of our business that's really taken off recently is our aerospace business. To do right. So, you know, aerospace is an example of an industrial article that has really actually been using additively manufactured solutions for a while, and so we are serving multiple aerospace clients in the sort of civilian side of the House or the commercial aviation sector, but then also now in the government side. And so, as many people know, in sort of aerospace, most of the costs for a deliberate solution. Again, that's something that flies the delivered solution. Most of those costs are actually out in the sustainment part of the life cycle. The average age of airplanes that are flying for the Department of Defense the United States that's twenty eight years old. Most of us don't have houses or cars that are that are that old, and yet America is flying on old airplanes right and so in order to sustain those aircraft you need specialty tools, you need specialty fixtures, you need specialty solutions that are available at the point of service to turn around airplanes quickly and get those planes back in the air, flying again. And that's what we're doing with with the with a lot of clients now in the aviation side of the business. So one of the things that vary that we focus on a lot is helping big industrial or I guess like medium sized industrial...

...companies that they make a product they've made a product for a very long time. You know, maybe like embedding intelligence into that product isn't their strong suit. It seems to me that aviation is a very specialty market that you guys have landed on. We see people that are trying to figure out what they should build and we're often asking them what informed your decision to select this as the correct path forward? How did you know, like what informed for you all that aviation was an interesting path or the path or an area where you wanted to specialize heavily? And that's a great question, you know, for us run honestly, we actually responded to some market pulled during the pandemic. I mean a lot of clients on the commercial manufacturing side where either shut down entirely or shut down partly for the better part of a year trying to figure out number one, is there an ongoing market for the stuff we're building and the stuff we're making, so the factory might be shut down for that reason, or when the factory start starting to open up again, how do we bring our employees back safely at scale, and how do we do employee health and safety for, you know, people across the enterprise. Well, the government had to answer those same questions. But the government never shut down because the government can't, you know, can't shut down, at least not for any length of time, and continue to, you know, keep the nation moving forward. So during the pandemic we were able to respond to the need that we saw for the investments in aerospace sustainment solutions at scale and with lower costs, lower cost profiles, and that's where additive really really wins, is, you know, changing the cost curve for Sustainment and in particular in aerospace sustainment. And so there were just a number of opportunities and we focused on delivering our core business solutions. That's, you know, high speed thredprinting, a lot of materials, you know, software solutions for the production of printed parts, and we just said, okay, how can we bring this ecosystem to bear for the aerospace community, relarge, and during two thousand and twenty there were numerous opportunities to actually do that. So we grew our business.

We're very fortunate. I mean a lot of businesses struggled in two thousand and twenty and are still struggling now. Is We're trying to figure out is the hangover weaning. Is the hangover still there? What's going on? Are we still masking? No, maybe we should again. Who knows? It's still a confusing time, you know. But at the end of the day, the government was was was buying printers and and and needing to keep America flying, and so they turned to us to help, help, be part of that solution. So that's what that's what. You know, mandated us as a business to focus, to build the right thing, right to build the right solution at the right time for the right customer. The good news is that addited manufacturing is inherently flexible. Right. It's an inherently flexible technology. It's designed not to be a star Trek replicator where you sort of push button, get part and it's magic and maybe I'll have a stake and some you know, a Martini as well. No, it's like it's a it could be useful in a manufacturing context like a mill or a lathe or an injection molding machine, but as much more flexibility than all of those types of production assets, which means it's a good time to be adopting additive in manufacturing. You know, you mentioned government. I wasn't anticipating to ask this question, but I think of aviation and I think of like the intersection of of like the private sector and the government sector. Government puts a lot of things up in the sky. What what has the Dod Position Been? D have they been out front in this? You know, have they are? Have they've been quick to adopt at it, if quick to dismiss added if you know, what is the landscape been on that side of the house? First I'll just say it does depend. It depends a little bit on the branch of service. If you're thinking about the dod. It depends on other agencies like FEMA or DHS, which are, I think, largely not yet using additive additive manufacturing at all. But there are tons of use cases where added manufacturing would be relevant for, for example, FEMA. We can certainly get to...

...that if you're interested. But you know, when it comes to the Dood, I really would give a shout out to the folks at atworks and the Air Force. At works is basically figuring out not only how to build upon the historical teams, and I use the word teams here there are many teams who are engaged in qualification of flight enabled and flight critical parts that are d print right there, produced on an additive manufacturing ecosystem and there again, their flying right like you mentioned. And so the Air Force has been doing this for a long time. There are people at the Air Force research labs and at the life cycle management center, for example, and then now there's a brand new program office that was stood up actually also kind of during the pandemic, really called the rapids the stayment office, and they're focused on quick turn of aircraft, getting getting those aircraft turned around and back back down, you know, into this guy as quickly as possible. So the Air Forces, I would certainly argue, there, there, there, you know, users of additive they really know what they're doing. They know how to use added manufacturing in a variety of value added contexts. And I'm happy to say that there are other branches like, you know, the army and Navy, in the Marine Corps. They're also exposed to additive and I think we're starting to see similar acceleration in these other branches as well, kind of drafting off of the wake a little bit that the air force has sort of created by, you know, taking and maintaining and creating a leadership position and added manufacturing technologies. It's interesting. I mean armies got tens of thousands, if not more, vehicles right, land based vehicles right, and so it will certainly be the case that keeping, you know, old humby's running for a long time, which seems to be something they're interested in, would be easier and lower cost using added manufacturing for tooling and for parts. In many cases drive away parts on humbies and you don't there then worry about the Humby, you know, falling out of the sky necessarily. So I think there's a lot of opportunity there on the army side of particular. I have so many questions about...

...the government side of the business, including, you know, the extent to which, in your experience there, their drive is towards additional capabilities or cost savings, but we're going to save that for the next time you've come on the show. Okay, I want the answer to be cost savings. I'm afraid that it will not be. But I want to talk about you composition. It is both. It's capability on safe I can I can tell you that, and the cost save side, just quickly, is about helping the government be relieved to the largest degree that it can be from vendorlock. Right, you sort of have. You know, a lot of the the primes which have done built great businesses for themselves and for the government, and they own a lot of the tech data that is used to, you know, produce an F thirty five, for example, or an F sixteen or whatever it is, or see thirty cargo playing or whatever. But the company owns the tech data. The government buys the part, government buys the airplane, but the government can't use the data because the data still owned by the company. Now, in reality, the question, and I think it's a good question, maybe we could explored in a future session. But who should on the data? I would argue the tax payers should have a seat at the table because we funded the development of that asset and but the company. But, but I'm also I operate a company, so I have to also think about how to preserve my intellectual property that goes into the creation of that data in the first place. So it's a nuance position. But the government is certainly looking to control their costs right in the sustainment costs, while increasing capabilities and they're turning to additive for all of those reasons, I I'm okay, we're not. You are not. You're forbidden to from responding to this statement. But I will just say that if, if the taxpayer did have a more meaningful seat at the table, it would it would be a fundamental shift, and not necessarily in a good way, in that government procurement process, because I think a lot of people put up with the headache of the process...

...because they know they're going to merge with IP and and so, better for better for worse, it is the process and change the process. You got to live with the ups and downs. I'm telling Ford, have you back on the show. We're going to talk about that. I'm not going to respond. Okay, I won't respond a lot to stem. I want to talk about. I want to go back what seems like twenty minutes ago to we're talking about product market that we're talking about you guys deciding to go pretty hardcore after aviation. You know what did what did team composition look like? As you're looking at here's the path forward, regardless of like where we land on product market fit. Not everybody nails it exactly. You know we're going to need this core team in place. How are you guys thinking about here? Are the things we need to be great at, regardless of our path forward. And here are some areas where let's go find some great partners, because we're not exactly sure if that skill set is going to be super critical or tangential or what. Yeah, so we had some great leadership wins here, and by we I mean I guess I mean me. And we also had some particularly painful and unpleasant, you know, learning experiences with regard to to team, right. I mean people are people and it's amazing to work with people and it's terrible to work with people all the same time. Right in and do your best you can as a leader to try to balance the needs of the organization with the needs of the people that comprise that organization. And that's just that's just the beautiful and terrible dynamic dance of leadership. But you know, for us we had to put in place early on multifaceted, multidomain capable people. We need a lot of generalists. Right, we were in earlier stage company. I mean our company now is eight years old, so we're, you know, we're still on our high growth stage to be sure, but we're not like an early stage start up anymore. But in the early days we had to focus on, okay, who can I get on the team that knows a lot about a lot? And then, you know, I don't have time for documentation, I don't have time for,...

...you know, recording every little knit of everything that you need on a certain solution. And then when one or more of those people leave you you are you see a lot of talent and on a lot of knowledge walk out the door. So we had that happened on a cornerstone project, you know, at a centium. We had to relearn how to, how to, you know, use electromagnetic energy elegantly inside of a d printer, which is it's just not something that most people ever know, let alone how have to relearn twice. So that was expensive, but we got there. I got there again. So so staying on the topic of challenges, you know. So we talked a lot on this show about what I call the the wrong side of impossible. And you know, a phrase that I'm particularly fond of is being different. Does it make you the best? But to be the best you do have to be different, and oftentimes in technology land, being different means that you've solved technical challenge that others have not, either because they have an attempted or they didn't understand the value of solving it. Can you talk about the wrong side of impossible for you guys, like what are some technical things you needed to solve? Sounds like in this case maybe needed solved twice. That you know work. Thanks for that work that one. Thanks for being on the show. But like, so you know, what are a couple of things that started as a wrong side of impossible? You guys needed to figure it out in order to kind of prove out your your value prop well, we had to prove how to make d printed parts as strong in all in all directions, in which might sound like a strange thing to say, but if you get an injection molded part, usually the injection molded part is very close to the same strength. It has the same strength properties in the three major directions, like x, Y and Z. Right. So...

...when you build a D printed part, you have usually an xy plane and then usually the part is grown or built in the Z direction. So the shape is defined in F and in x and Y, but the height of the part is usually defined in Z. will usually the z direction is very weak because it's a little bit like a deck of playing cards. Right, you have the the playing cards and they're like, you know, fifty two cards in the deck, and so if you if you grab the cards in your hand and you pull on them in the direction of the playing cards themselves, then they're very strong. But if you just lift one card off the top of the deck like you're cutting the deck, you just cut the deck. It's effortless to cut the deck because there's no real strength in that direction. The cards are not connected one to the other, and so we had to solve that for dy printing, and we did. We created threty printed parts that were as strong in all directions, which means they're ISOTROPIC. So you sort of have x, Y and Z strength properties that do not different, that are not different from each other, which means then, as an engineer, you can actually design for additive which is like this next phase of a beautiful, wonder more wonderful, miraculous future where you're designing to use additive manufacturing as you're manufacturing process of choice. But until that time people have to trust the technology, learn the technology, trust the technology, and so I would pause it that the technology is right per prime time because in large part we've been able to solve this really class like you know, multidecade long problem around making d printed parts strong and all directions. So we solve that and we call that flash FUS technology. That will be widely part of our ecosystem here shortly. So Flash FEUS. One of the ways that you put it to me previously was proving that you can heat up plastic parts on slow printers. Can you explain that? What that means? Yeah, so when you build, when you build d printed parts, historically you you sort of have this point source of heat and it's usually like the nozzle, like the heated...

...nozzle. You can think about like a hot glue gun, right, the hot glue gun has this hot nozzle and it's melting plastic and you're moving the nozzle around and you're printing apart. So the part in the plastic are hot right when it's leaving the nozzle. That's a point source of heat. With Flash Fews, what we did is we basically created a halo. You can think about like a halo that goes around the nozzle and it creates a diffuse energy field, and so you can you think about like a shower head of just raining down energy. It's raining down electromagnetic energy and we started out with microwaves. We started then we moved into our F so that's sort of in the the mega hurts frequency band and then now we're in the killer hurts, mega hurts sort of hybrid band area. And so we're raining energy down on the printed part. Well, you have to couple that energy to something or it's just wasted energy. So we couple the energy to electrically conductive plastics. So our plastics themselves are electrically conductive. So we kind of did two impossible things. We kind of figured out how to rain down energy onto a D printed part as their D printed part is being built. And then we also figured out how a couple electromagnetic energy to plastic, which is normally inert to electromagnetic energy, doesn't really heat up. And you put a plastic in a microwave like a plastic fork you, I mean plastic for might get a little warm but it's not going to melt. You're not going to melt the plastic fork in a microwave right. So so we figured out how to make plastic electrically conductive. Those were two multi domain problems in involving nanotechnology and material science and chemistry and chemical engineering and software engineering and beer, you know, a lot of hard work. We got it. So, you know, one of the things that we see a lot is, like I said, this this wrong side. I've been possible. You know, hard problems tend oftentimes heart problems. That are the correct problems equals valuable problem solved. What's next...

...for you guys, like what's the next big, valuable, interesting, hard thing you're going after that that you could tell us about? Understand there's probably, you know, some things on the multi year horizon you can't talk about today. But what are we going to see out of a centium in, you know, next weeks, two months, weeks to months? Still See, you know, additional types of printers. So we're certainly, you know, continuing to move quickly down the pitch at a fast as paces as we can on more and better robots. You know, I mean the the printer is important. In the printer is not important. You have to have a great printer so you can process the material and leave behind a bit part. So you need to really focus on on the robotic side of it, the automation side, the Servo loop servo control, closed with motor feedback in the machine, the firmware, all that. You have to focus on those machines, you really do. But and so you always need to sort of evolve and continue to make your machines, you know, better. And in our case that means making sure that you get great parts off the printer the first time and every time, not just the parts off the printer really, really fast, which were already really, really good at, but we want to make our parts themselves better and in terms of that first time print success and the part surface finish, in the esthetics and all these things that are also important to the actual success of the part. So we'll be rolling out a number of hardware solutions and software solutions as well, aimed at the user experience, aimed at that part quality and the part, you know, presentation itself. So that's going to be a key area of focus for us in the varying your term. Also, more materials. You know, a centium is actually I talk a lot about the machine. The reality is that we are in materials first company. So I'm a recovering material scientist myself and the end of the day you sort of think about well, materials are kind of the thing that matters the most because it's what you're left within your hand. You put an iphone in your hand, it's composed of materials. The iphone is not composed of the mills and the lathes and the machines that made the phone. The materials in the phone or what's that behind right? So we have...

...a number of materials that were rolling out. We're really excited about high strength, high speed, high temperature materials. So just pushing the envelope for more and better solutions to be brought to bear on the design problems in additive. So okay, now we're zooming out to higher altitude. Moving to a close here. You've been in the space for a while. You guys are kind of at the crossroads of some cool areas in tech, especially, you know, specifically additive in aviation. I think that's not aware of anybody else at that at that particular crossroads. Who out there in Iot Land, you know what other company aside from yours are you looking at and thinking, man, these guys are doing some cool things. Nobody's talking about them. Could be consumer, could be industrial, could be whatever. You know, who out there should should the audience, be be known about, be thinking about. Yeah, I think what one of the things also, I'm glad you brought that up, Ryan, because one of the things that we are also going to focus on with some partners in this is where you really need great partners. Would be certainly me on the software and the digital side of the business, making sure that you're managing the digital experience and the connected machine experience to the best degree that you can. And so there will need to be solutions around the capability set for network enabled and network connected machines, also the security set, cybersecurity, how the machines themselves operate in a trustless environment. That's vitally important. We can't see, you know, ourselves allowing our customers to get hacked, you know, and that's you know, cyber security profiles are a major concern, and so I would you know, I just give a shout out to one of our partners in the space. You know, materialize is a software company that we've been working with. Their out of BELGEM and they make really great software. I'm also there's a company here in the United States called den dry. It is out of the Seattle area and they're working...

...with HP as well on the universal built manager. And so you see this movement forward and software in the additive manufacturing landscape, and this is crucial for the next generation of design. The reason why say it's crucial is because you can now actually manufacture things on the machine that are really difficult to design and software. And so you have like we actually now need software to come to the party more completely to enable next generation design. I mean, I was a designer in my past and you could design stuff in cad that was non manufacture able, but now it's actually much more difficult to design something that you cannot actually make using adding manufacturing. So the software tools have to evolve, I would argue, to reflip that paradigm again, because otherwise, if you think about it, where does the next generation of creativity come from? What? You have to design and ide it and create it digitally first, whatever the it is, before you can create the it for the first time in the in the built world. So software has got to catch up. I would say. Awesome. Last question for you, Blake. So the For folks out there listening like in what you have to say. How can, how could folks keep up with you? Yeah, so definitely head on over to a CENTIMCOM and we, you know, we update our blog postings and our digital and our video content all the time. We've got a presence on Linkedin, we've got a presence on twitter, and so, you know, take a look there and you know we'd love to we'd love to stay in touch. We we love that. We love the conversation around how to build, you know, for the future and how to advance manufacturing globally. That's that's what we think about every day. Cool. Well, Blake, thanks for being on the show today. Folks, that's all we've got for this particular episode of Ota. If you'd like to be a guest on the show, you can email us at podcast at very possible and if you're out there...

...listening from materialize or den Dright, love to have you. Otherwise, feel free to give us a shout. My name is Ryan prosser. Blake, I appreciate you being on the show. Thanks for listening. Everybody will see you on the Internet. You shouldn't have to worry about IOT projects dragging on or unreliable vendors. You've got enough on your plate. The right team of Engineers and project managers can change a pivotal moment for your business, into your competitive edge varies. Close Knit crew of ambitious problem solvers, continuous improvers and curious builders know how to turn your ideas into a reality on time and up to your standards, with a focus on mitigating risk and maximizing opportunity, will help you build an Iot solution that you can hang your hat on. Let's bring your Iot idea to life. Learn more at very possiblecom. You've been listening to over the Air Iot connected devices and the journey. If you enjoyed today's episode, make sure to hit subscribe in your favorite podcast player and give us a rating. Have a question or an idea for future episode? Send it to podcast at very possiblecom see you next time.

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