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 timebecause in large part we've been able to solve this really classic, multidecade longproblem around making d printing parts strong in all directions. You are listening toover 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 IOTjourneys, the mistakes they made, the lessons they learned and what they wishthey'd known when they started. Welcome back to over the Air IOT connected devicesin the journey. My name is Ryan prossers, CEO vary, and todaywe're joined by Blake type, cofounder and CEO of sentium. We're going tobe talking about d printing versus additive manufacturing. What you need to know, andI'm using air quotes, is additive manufacturing real this time. Blake,thanks for being on the show. Man, Ryan, it's great to speak withyou. Yeah, I'm looking for to our conversation. Thanks for havingme. So, I bet so. We're recording this in July two thousandand twenty one. The world is moving fast. You know, maybe afew months from now it will not be this but I think a lot ofpeople 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 belike, where do you guys fit in the added of manufacturing landscape?But a bit of education first. Yeah, that's awesome rhyme. So the wayI try to draw a distinction, and there is a distinction and it'sboth useful and it's also just dumb, and so sometimes I even use thetwo to the two terms interchangeably, but I'll try to to my best toto again draw that distinction for folks in a way that makes sense. Sod 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 littledesktop machine or some printer and you're building...

...apart and you get this little widgetor it's a toy or it's a Yoda head or an Eiffel Tower or orsome little device that is fun, or it's a chatch key. Usually dprinting is useful to sort of get people interested in engineering or get people interestedin 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 DPRINTINGinto a manufacturing context. We're basically making the part. Is Only part ofthe journey and in fact, I would argue, one of the least importantparts of the journey. You go from a design to the prepared file tothe printing of the part. That's like the third or maybe one of themiddle steps. Then you pull the part off the machine and you do postprocessing of the part to clean it up. Then you actually are inspecting the partto see, hey, was this produced properly, and then you're usuallystoring data around that part, like how many instances were printed, how manygood instances out of the total batch? What was your yield? And thenyou are tracking, of course, the economics, the life cycle and thecosts for each of those steps. And so the D printing part is amiddle part of the additive manufacturing process. Now the good news is that additivemanufacturing is very similar to actual manufacturing. Right if we think about the builtenvironment in which we all live, we have planes, trains, cars,computers, shoes, apparel, phones, tablets, Alexa, etc. Theseare all devices produced on supply chains, in factories, in an actual manufacturingcontext. And so, when I think about the moment in time in whichwe find ourselves now, the thing that gets me excited and out of theout of bed every day is the fact that d printing has matured to thepoint 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 thatmeans for supply chains, factories and eventually consumer parts everywhere. So before I'vea thousand follow up questions, but talk...

...about like where you guys fit inthat landscape. So, you know, a centium is focused on which sliceof that world? Yeah, so our products today are are center laser focusparts that used to be injection molded or even are currently injection molded or theirmachined 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 injectionmolded part, if you think about you know, like your are pods oryour again, many different devices that you have on your desk, like yourmouse, where your computer. These are all composed of plastic parts that areinjection molded, and so injection molding is a very common manufacturing technique. It'suseful for producing millions of parts that are all exactly the same, and sowe're added. Of Manufacturing comes in is, let's say I would like to producetenzero parts that are different from the next tenzero parts, which are differentfrom the tenzero parts in the badge that follows after that. Injection molding strugglesa 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 ishow 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 thesecustomers 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, inparticular, like jigs and fixtures and tools that are used inside out of factoriesevery day all over the world, and these fixturing devices are usually used tosupport or guide or, you know, hold in place the part that's beingmachined and used by the consumer at the end of the day. So eventhose parts themselves, the fixtures for example,...

...or the jigs, those really shouldbe 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 theycan, you know, change designs and respond to consumer sentiment as itas it changes. It never correct me if I'm wrong. I didn't hearyou 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, likeyou guys are doing quite a bit of work with things that fly. Isthat how I oversimplified that to the like? Is that broadly correct? That isprobably correct, and so, you know, getting pardon upon, butpart of our business that's really taken off recently is our aerospace business. Todo right. So, you know, aerospace is an example of an industrialarticle that has really actually been using additively manufactured solutions for a while, andso we are serving multiple aerospace clients in the sort of civilian side of theHouse or the commercial aviation sector, but then also now in the government side. And so, as many people know, in sort of aerospace, most ofthe costs for a deliberate solution. Again, that's something that flies thedelivered solution. Most of those costs are actually out in the sustainment part ofthe life cycle. The average age of airplanes that are flying for the Departmentof Defense the United States that's twenty eight years old. Most of us don'thave houses or cars that are that are that old, and yet America isflying on old airplanes right and so in order to sustain those aircraft you needspecialty tools, you need specialty fixtures, you need specialty solutions that are availableat the point of service to turn around airplanes quickly and get those planes backin the air, flying again. And that's what we're doing with with thewith a lot of clients now in the aviation side of the business. Soone of the things that vary that we focus on a lot is helping bigindustrial or I guess like medium sized industrial...

...companies that they make a product they'vemade a product for a very long time. You know, maybe like embedding intelligenceinto that product isn't their strong suit. It seems to me that aviation isa very specialty market that you guys have landed on. We see peoplethat are trying to figure out what they should build and we're often asking themwhat informed your decision to select this as the correct path forward? How didyou know, like what informed for you all that aviation was an interesting pathor the path or an area where you wanted to specialize heavily? And that'sa great question, you know, for us run honestly, we actually respondedto some market pulled during the pandemic. I mean a lot of clients onthe commercial manufacturing side where either shut down entirely or shut down partly for thebetter part of a year trying to figure out number one, is there anongoing market for the stuff we're building and the stuff we're making, so thefactory might be shut down for that reason, or when the factory start starting toopen 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 continueto, you know, keep the nation moving forward. So during the pandemicwe were able to respond to the need that we saw for the investments inaerospace sustainment solutions at scale and with lower costs, lower cost profiles, andthat's where additive really really wins, is, you know, changing the cost curvefor Sustainment and in particular in aerospace sustainment. And so there were justa 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 dothat. So we grew our business.

We're very fortunate. I mean alot 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 stillthere? What's going on? Are we still masking? No, maybe weshould again. Who knows? It's still a confusing time, you know.But at the end of the day, the government was was was buying printersand and and needing to keep America flying, and so they turned to us tohelp, help, be part of that solution. So that's what that'swhat. You know, mandated us as a business to focus, to buildthe right thing, right to build the right solution at the right time forthe 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 starTrek replicator where you sort of push button, get part and it's magic and maybeI'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 likea mill or a lathe or an injection molding machine, but as much moreflexibility than all of those types of production assets, which means it's a goodtime 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 Ithink 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 hasthe Dod Position Been? D have they been out front in this? Youknow, 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 thatside of the house? First I'll just say it does depend. Itdepends a little bit on the branch of service. If you're thinking about thedod. It depends on other agencies like FEMA or DHS, which are,I think, largely not yet using additive additive manufacturing at all. But thereare 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 youknow, when it comes to the Dood, I really would give a shout outto the folks at atworks and the Air Force. At works is basicallyfiguring out not only how to build upon the historical teams, and I usethe word teams here there are many teams who are engaged in qualification of flightenabled and flight critical parts that are d print right there, produced on anadditive manufacturing ecosystem and there again, their flying right like you mentioned. Andso the Air Force has been doing this for a long time. There arepeople 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 stoodup 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 aircraftturned around and back back down, you know, into this guy as quicklyas possible. So the Air Forces, I would certainly argue, there,there, there, you know, users of additive they really know what they'redoing. They know how to use added manufacturing in a variety of value addedcontexts. And I'm happy to say that there are other branches like, youknow, the army and Navy, in the Marine Corps. They're also exposedto additive and I think we're starting to see similar acceleration in these other branchesas well, kind of drafting off of the wake a little bit that theair force has sort of created by, you know, taking and maintaining andcreating a leadership position and added manufacturing technologies. It's interesting. I mean armies gottens 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 interestedin, would be easier and lower cost using added manufacturing for tooling andfor parts. In many cases drive away parts on humbies and you don't therethen 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 ofparticular. 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 savethat for the next time you've come on the show. Okay, I wantthe 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 onsafe I can I can tell you that, and the cost save side, just quickly, is about helping the government be relieved to the largest degreethat it can be from vendorlock. Right, you sort of have. You know, a lot of the the primes which have done built great businesses forthemselves and for the government, and they own a lot of the tech datathat is used to, you know, produce an F thirty five, forexample, or an F sixteen or whatever it is, or see thirty cargoplaying or whatever. But the company owns the tech data. The government buysthe part, government buys the airplane, but the government can't use the databecause the data still owned by the company. Now, in reality, the question, and I think it's a good question, maybe we could explored ina future session. But who should on the data? I would argue thetax payers should have a seat at the table because we funded the development ofthat 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 propertythat goes into the creation of that data in the first place. So it'sa nuance position. But the government is certainly looking to control their costs rightin the sustainment costs, while increasing capabilities and they're turning to additive for allof 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 peopleput up with the headache of the process...

...because they know they're going to mergewith IP and and so, better for better for worse, it is theprocess 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 totalk about that. I'm not going to respond. Okay, I won't responda lot to stem. I want to talk about. I want to goback what seems like twenty minutes ago to we're talking about product market that we'retalking about you guys deciding to go pretty hardcore after aviation. You know whatdid what did team composition look like? As you're looking at here's the pathforward, regardless of like where we land on product market fit. Not everybodynails 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 begreat at, regardless of our path forward. And here are some areaswhere let's go find some great partners, because we're not exactly sure if thatskill 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 guessI mean me. And we also had some particularly painful and unpleasant,you know, learning experiences with regard to to team, right. I meanpeople are people and it's amazing to work with people and it's terrible to workwith people all the same time. Right in and do your best you canas a leader to try to balance the needs of the organization with the needsof the people that comprise that organization. And that's just that's just the beautifuland terrible dynamic dance of leadership. But you know, for us we hadto put in place early on multifaceted, multidomain capable people. We need alot of generalists. Right, we were in earlier stage company. I meanour company now is eight years old, so we're, you know, we'restill on our high growth stage to be sure, but we're not like anearly stage start up anymore. But in the early days we had to focuson, okay, who can I get on the team that knows a lotabout a lot? And then, you know, I don't have time fordocumentation, I don't have time for,...

...you know, recording every little knitof everything that you need on a certain solution. And then when one ormore of those people leave you you are you see a lot of talent andon a lot of knowledge walk out the door. So we had that happenedon a cornerstone project, you know, at a centium. We had torelearn how to, how to, you know, use electromagnetic energy elegantly insideof a d printer, which is it's just not something that most people everknow, let alone how have to relearn twice. So that was expensive,but we got there. I got there again. So so staying on thetopic of challenges, you know. So we talked a lot on this showabout 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 youthe 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 thatothers have not, either because they have an attempted or they didn't understand thevalue of solving it. Can you talk about the wrong side of impossible foryou guys, like what are some technical things you needed to solve? Soundslike in this case maybe needed solved twice. That you know work. Thanks forthat work that one. Thanks for being on the show. But like, so you know, what are a couple of things that started as awrong side of impossible? You guys needed to figure it out in order tokind of prove out your your value prop well, we had to prove howto make d printed parts as strong in all in all directions, in whichmight sound like a strange thing to say, but if you get an injection moldedpart, 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 orbuilt in the Z direction. So the shape is defined in F and inx 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 likea deck of playing cards. Right, you have the the playing cards andthey're like, you know, fifty two cards in the deck, and soif you if you grab the cards in your hand and you pull on themin the direction of the playing cards themselves, then they're very strong. But ifyou just lift one card off the top of the deck like you're cuttingthe deck, you just cut the deck. It's effortless to cut the deck becausethere's no real strength in that direction. The cards are not connected one tothe other, and so we had to solve that for dy printing,and we did. We created threty printed parts that were as strong in alldirections, which means they're ISOTROPIC. So you sort of have x, Yand Z strength properties that do not different, that are not different from each other, which means then, as an engineer, you can actually design foradditive 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 isright per prime time because in large part we've been able to solve this reallyclass like you know, multidecade long problem around making d printed parts strong andall 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 youcan heat up plastic parts on slow printers. Can you explain that? What thatmeans? Yeah, so when you build, when you build d printedparts, historically you you sort of have this point source of heat and it'susually like the nozzle, like the heated...

...nozzle. You can think about likea hot glue gun, right, the hot glue gun has this hot nozzleand 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 iswe basically created a halo. You can think about like a halo that goesaround the nozzle and it creates a diffuse energy field, and so you canyou think about like a shower head of just raining down energy. It's rainingdown electromagnetic energy and we started out with microwaves. We started then we movedinto our F so that's sort of in the the mega hurts frequency band andthen 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, youhave to couple that energy to something or it's just wasted energy. So wecouple 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 outhow to rain down energy onto a D printed part as their D printed partis being built. And then we also figured out how a couple electromagnetic energyto 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. Soso we figured out how to make plastic electrically conductive. Those were two multidomain problems in involving nanotechnology and material science and chemistry and chemical engineering and softwareengineering and beer, you know, a lot of hard work. We gotit. So, you know, one of the things that we see alot is, like I said, this this wrong side. I've been possible. You know, hard problems tend oftentimes heart problems. That are the correctproblems equals valuable problem solved. What's next...

...for you guys, like what's thenext big, valuable, interesting, hard thing you're going after that that youcould tell us about? Understand there's probably, you know, some things on themulti year horizon you can't talk about today. But what are we goingto see out of a centium in, you know, next weeks, twomonths, weeks to months? Still See, you know, additional types of printers. So we're certainly, you know, continuing to move quickly down the pitchat a fast as paces as we can on more and better robots.You know, I mean the the printer is important. In the printer isnot important. You have to have a great printer so you can process thematerial and leave behind a bit part. So you need to really focus onon the robotic side of it, the automation side, the Servo loop servocontrol, closed with motor feedback in the machine, the firmware, all that. You have to focus on those machines, you really do. But and soyou always need to sort of evolve and continue to make your machines,you know, better. And in our case that means making sure that youget great parts off the printer the first time and every time, not justthe parts off the printer really, really fast, which were already really,really good at, but we want to make our parts themselves better and interms of that first time print success and the part surface finish, in theesthetics and all these things that are also important to the actual success of thepart. So we'll be rolling out a number of hardware solutions and software solutionsas well, aimed at the user experience, aimed at that part quality and thepart, you know, presentation itself. So that's going to be a keyarea of focus for us in the varying your term. Also, morematerials. You know, a centium is actually I talk a lot about themachine. The reality is that we are in materials first company. So I'ma recovering material scientist myself and the end of the day you sort of thinkabout well, materials are kind of the thing that matters the most because it'swhat 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 thelathes and the machines that made the phone. The materials in the phone or what'sthat behind right? So we have...

...a number of materials that were rollingout. 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 tobear on the design problems in additive. So okay, now we're zooming outto higher altitude. Moving to a close here. You've been in the spacefor a while. You guys are kind of at the crossroads of some coolareas in tech, especially, you know, specifically additive in aviation. I thinkthat's not aware of anybody else at that at that particular crossroads. Whoout there in Iot Land, you know what other company aside from yours areyou looking at and thinking, man, these guys are doing some cool things. Nobody's talking about them. Could be consumer, could be industrial, couldbe whatever. You know, who out there should should the audience, bebe known about, be thinking about. Yeah, I think what one ofthe things also, I'm glad you brought that up, Ryan, because oneof the things that we are also going to focus on with some partners inthis is where you really need great partners. Would be certainly me on the softwareand the digital side of the business, making sure that you're managing the digitalexperience 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 enabledand network connected machines, also the security set, cybersecurity, how the machinesthemselves operate in a trustless environment. That's vitally important. We can't see,you know, ourselves allowing our customers to get hacked, you know, andthat's you know, cyber security profiles are a major concern, and so Iwould you know, I just give a shout out to one of our partnersin the space. You know, materialize is a software company that we've beenworking with. Their out of BELGEM and they make really great software. I'malso there's a company here in the United States called den dry. It isout of the Seattle area and they're working...

...with HP as well on the universalbuilt manager. And so you see this movement forward and software in the additivemanufacturing landscape, and this is crucial for the next generation of design. Thereason why say it's crucial is because you can now actually manufacture things on themachine that are really difficult to design and software. And so you have likewe actually now need software to come to the party more completely to enable nextgeneration design. I mean, I was a designer in my past and youcould design stuff in cad that was non manufacture able, but now it's actuallymuch 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 thatparadigm again, because otherwise, if you think about it, where does thenext generation of creativity come from? What? You have to design and ide itand create it digitally first, whatever the it is, before you cancreate the it for the first time in the in the built world. Sosoftware has got to catch up. I would say. Awesome. Last questionfor you, Blake. So the For folks out there listening like in whatyou have to say. How can, how could folks keep up with you? Yeah, so definitely head on over to a CENTIMCOM and we, youknow, we update our blog postings and our digital and our video content allthe time. We've got a presence on Linkedin, we've got a presence ontwitter, and so, you know, take a look there and you knowwe'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 andhow 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'dlike to be a guest on the show, you can email us at podcast atvery 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'thave to worry about IOT projects dragging on or unreliable vendors. You've got enoughon your plate. The right team of Engineers and project managers can change apivotal moment for your business, into your competitive edge varies. Close Knit crewof ambitious problem solvers, continuous improvers and curious builders know how to turn yourideas into a reality on time and up to your standards, with a focuson mitigating risk and maximizing opportunity, will help you build an Iot solution thatyou 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 connecteddevices and the journey. If you enjoyed today's episode, make sure to hitsubscribe in your favorite podcast player and give us a rating. Have a questionor an idea for future episode? Send it to podcast at very possiblecom seeyou next time.

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