Do business executives and finance professionals need a helping hand understanding the investment case for 3D Printing

Reeves Insight and the British Standards Institute might just have the answer

Like most 8-year olds, I had no idea what my father did back in 1979. Frankly, I don’t think I cared. As long as it meant we could afford a color television to watch Ed Stewart on Crackerjack I was happy.

It wasn’t until I was about nineteen that I mentioned to my father some problems I was having on my college summer placement at Vickers Nuclear Engineering. I was rotating through the departments and had ‘sadly landed’ in the quality control department.  I was baffled. They wanted me to review their newly created ISO9000 documentation to see how it compared to their previous BS5750 documentation.

“Yawn”…………………………

Little did I know that my father was both the cause of my problem and the solution!

Back in the mid-1970s, my father was the quality control manager at the Dutch appliance manufacturer Philips.  The company had a strong quality and safety ethos and co-opted my father onto a British Standards Institute (BSI) working group to develop a standard for manufacturing production procedures. This activity led to the publication of BS5750. My father spent the next few years helping different manufacturing companies adopt and embed BS5750 before transitioning his knowledge across to ISO9000 and ultimately ISO9001.

It took my father about 30-seconds to explain what I needed to do to keep the QA manager at Vickers happy. He then spent the next few hours explaining why standards are vital to the success of companies, supply chains, and industries as a whole.

Fast forward another 30-years, and like good-old dad, I also found myself sitting in a BSI working group. Albeit with a few differences. In 2019, I was asked by BSI and their sponsors UK Research & Innovate (UKRI) if I could write a guide for senior executives and finance professionals to help them understand the business case for investment in Additive Manufacturing and 3D Printing. The rationale being that the engineers who understand AM/3DP don’t always know what the budget holders want to hear and struggle to secure investment. Inversely, the budget holders don’t always know what questions to ask or which stones to turn over to find the ‘real-cost’ or ‘risk’ of AM/3DP technology adoption.

So, for the last 18-months, I have been working with BSI, IRUK, and a group of industry stakeholders to develop such a document. I am delighted to say that all our hard work has now come to fruition with the publication of PAS6001:2020 – Factors to be considered in making and assessing the business case for additive manufacturing and 3D printing. PAS6001 is a fast-track standardization document, which defines good practice when building or evaluating the business case for AM/3DP investment.

PAS 6001 starts by looking at the organizational benefits associated with AM/3DP adoption, from topline revenue growth through product innovation to bottom-line profitability through lean manufacturing. The guide then looks at the costs and risks associated with AM/3DP hardware acquisition before considers the potential benefits and drawbacks of establishing an outsourced AM/3DP supply chain. PAS6001 then goes on to assess the impact of AM/3DP on sales channels, commercial activities, tax, tariffs, and intracompany accounting. The final section then considers the human resources and skills needed to implement AM/3DP across the enterprise, from design and manufacture through to quality, sales, and service. The document is supported by several hypothetical case studies and backed with a series of annex tables that readers can populate with information about their businesses. PAS6001 is free for anyone to download from the BSI website.

I am happy with how PAS6001 has turned out, but the proof of the pudding will be in the eating, or in other words, the number of downloads and positive feedback that BSI receives. Perhaps over time PAS6001 will do for AM/3DP what BS5750 did for quality. Make it mainstream.

Bio-compatible, bio-degradable & bio-resorbable 3D Printing – Could a photopolymer be the answer?

It has been well over a decade since we first started to see metallic AM processes being used to make medical implants. Initially, these were bespoke implants made by companies such as Xilloc. But more recently we have seen companies such as Stryker, DuPuy, and Zimmer using AM for high volume device production.  From hips and knee joints to cranial plates and spinal fusion cages, all made using medical-grade titanium by laser and electron beam melting.

In more recent years, we have also seen the advent of some medical-grade PEKK materials that can be processed using laser sintering. But beyond that, there is little in the way of ‘truly’ implantable 3D printing polymers, which is a shame as there are so many market opportunities emerging for such materials. That situation may however be about to change because new 3D printable polymers are being developed that can not only be implanted, but they can also be ‘tuned’ in several ways. The mechanical properties can be tuned to simulate different types of tissue. They can also be tuned to degrade over time within the body, slowly being absorbed and replaced by healthy new cells.

Many AM machine vendors and materials companies will claim to have a ‘medical-grade material’ that will be ‘biocompatible’ and tested to ISO-10993. However, on closer inspection, you will find that these materials can only be used in applications with a limited exposure period to human cells.  In other words, there are suitable for functional prototypes, but little else.

Of course, there are 3D Printing systems, such as FDM, which can process biodegradable and bioresorbable materials such as PLA and PLGA. However, these processes fail to achieve the resolution needed for microscale implant manufacture, which is where these materials are typically used. That is because the human body finds it challenging to resorb large amounts of PLA or PLGA without localized swelling and rejection.

So, is there a more viable 3D Printing solution, suited to both small scale micro-device manufacture and larger scale reconstructive implants and scaffolds? Moreover, is there a commercially available material that can be tuned to have a specific rate of degradation in the human body, along with tunable mechanical properties?

Well, I think there might be!

In a bizarre coincidence, in a world of 7.8-billion people, I happen to live in the same small market town as the CEO of newly created 4D Biomaterials. 4D Biomaterials was spun out from the Universities of Birmingham and Warwick here in the UK back in April 2020. The company’s mission is to commercialize a new class of photocurable resins based on polycarbonate chemistry. The resins, developed by the company’s founders Professor Andrew Dove and Dr. Andrew Weems, are novel bioresorbable materials with good shape memory, tuneable mechanical and chemical properties, and promising tissue-healing performance.

Over the last 15-years, I have been asked numerous times by clients if I could identify biocompatible materials with these properties, and until now, I have struggled to find an answer.  Now I think I have one. What is more, I am going to get a little closer to the action on this one, as Phil Smith CEO of 4D Biomaterials, has asked me to become the company’s 3D Printing advisor. It was not a difficult decision to make saying yes.

Images courtesy of 4D Biomaterials

Which comes first, the application, or the technology? – The chicken and the egg conundrum of 3D printing being put to rest by Added Scientific Ltd (ASL)

It’s almost 20-years ago that I first saw Additive Layer Manufacturing (ALM) machines being used to make components and parts that were more than just prototypes. They were also more than just casting patterns or short term tooling solutions. They were actual parts, including small electrical connectors and the shells of high-end personalized hearing-aids.

Over the intervening 20-years, we have seen these niche applications slowly growing to encompass high value, low volume applications in sectors such as aerospace and healthcare. But to be honest, AM/3DP is still primarily a niche technology. But why?

The reality is, for an application to work with AM/3DP; it has to be not only technically feasible but also economically viable. And for that to happen, the stars need to align correctly.

The problem is, we don’t always know how or when this alignment will happen. So what can we do to make it happen? Well, we can either wait for the stars to align naturally, or we can start to expand our understanding of physics, or start looking for new branches of astronomy.

In other words, we can wait for existing technology and materials vendors to launch a new product; in the hope, it enables our application. Or, we can develop the technology and materials to suit the applications – from the ground up.

The problem is, very few of the existing AM/3DP machine vendors have the capacity or infrastructure to engage in this special-purpose machine building. Moreover, very few materials vendors have the resources to focus their efforts on targeted materials formulation and characterization. And why should they? They already have R&D roadmaps to concentrate on without the distraction of individual customers wanting bespoke, application-centric technologies, and materials.

So where can companies go to get AM/3DP technologies and materials developed from the ground up?

Since 1994 I have been involved with several senior academics working within one of the world’s leading AM/3DP research groups at the University of Nottingham here in the UK. This group of around 100-people, excel in AM/3DP problem solving, building bespoke demonstration rigs, developing custom software tools, and formulating and characterizing highly specialized materials. From inkjet to open vat photopolymer systems to thermal laser and IR based systems for metals and polymer powers. These guys have developed solutions using no end of new and novel materials, from biological materials to multi-material systems used in optics, electronics, and healthcare. They have developed rapid screening techniques to find new monomers suited to a range of AM/3DP applications and have even developed jetting systems capable of printing metals up to 2000-degrees C.

About 5-years ago, with the blessing of the University, the academics formed the spin-out company  Added Scientific Ltd, to make this capability and capacity accessible to both AM/3DP technology users and machine and materials vendors. What sets ASL apart is that it operates as a truly independent entity from the University, but has access to the university resources, infrastructure, and critically people. This allows ASL to be highly responsive to the technical and commercial needs of companies, without many of the IP ownership or commercial limitations of working solely with a university.

As I have got to know the commercial and technical teams within ASL, rather than just the founders, I have become slightly envious of the work they do.  Solving actual AM/3DP application problems by developing new hardware, materials, and software solutions. As you would imagine, I, therefore, got rather excited to get a call earlier this summer asking me if I would join them on a part-time basis as commercial director.

So here we are, when I was trying to scale back my workload, I now have an additional role in life on top of my consulting portfolio. But that OK, as after 20-years I now think we might have a solution for getting AM/3DP into mainstream manufacturing.

Evolutionary biologists and schoolchildren might still be trying to decide which came first – the chicken or the egg – but in the world of AM/3DP, to me it’s clear. We have to stop trying to shoe-horn applications onto technologies and start developing technologies for applications. If you agree, let me know as I might know some folk who can help.

 

All Images courtesy of Added Scientific and the University of Nottingham

Talking or listening – which one do you prefer? Phil’s (very) extended interview with Tanya Weaver

Contrary to popular belief, one of the first things you learned as a consultant is not how to steal a watch to tell a client the time but now to listen. In consulting, there is a simple ratio; you listen twice as much as you speak. You have two ears and one mouth, and they should be used in those proportions. That’s why I sometimes feel a little uneasy being interviewed by journalists, where I have to do the majority of the talking.

However, just before lock-down started, I spent an enjoyable morning sitting in my meeting room with the writer and journalist Tanya Weaver. I have known Tanya for almost a decade since we first met when she was writing for the magazine Develop3D. Since then Tanya has immersed herself in all things AM/3DP so I knew we were going to have a great chat. Unlike most of the interviews I have done over the years, this was going to be a little different. Not a list of prescribed questions, but a conversation, a conversation about AM/3DP, and my observations over the last 26-years.

During almost 3-hours Tanya and I discussed a broad range of topics that Tanya has how written up into two excellent articles, which have been published on the MTDCNC magazine website.

In the first article, we discuss what I see as the primary barriers for AM/3DP adoption by industry. Primarily centered around production economics and the difficulties of making an application fit the constraints of technology, rather than developing technology for an application (see my September 2020 post for more insight on this topic – as there is a solution).

In the second article, we discuss how companies can find value in the adoption of AM/3DP and whether this should be through top-line revenue growth or bottom-line productivity and efficiency gains. We discuss how new product innovation enabled by AM/3DP can drive sales and revenue. We also look at how AM/3DP can be used to reduce the seven wastes of lean manufacturing and can, therefore, be focused on production efficiency gains, waste reduction, and increased profitability.

I’m not sure if Tanya will be writing any more articles based on our conversation, but if she does, I will post the links below.

Reeves Insight helps Boston Micro Fabrication find big markets for small parts

In July 2020, I finished a 4-month assignment for leading micro-SLA technology vendor Boston Micro Fabrication (BMF). For those not familiar with the BMF projection micro-stereolithography or PµSL process, it’s a photocurable resin 3D printing process with the capability of making parts at extremely high resolution. The BMF 130 machine builds components in layers as thin as 5µm, with an X/Y resolution as small as 2µm.

These capabilities should positions the technology squarely within the micro-manufacturing domain, as both a unique and credible prototyping solution and a production alternative to established micro-manufacturing methods. But, which methods can it displace and for what applications and in what materials? Moreover, is it uniquely positioned in the market and if so, how much better is it than other contenders? For the answers to these questions, BMF turned to Reeves Insight.

Working with the senior management team at BMF, we developed a four-stage project brief based on a detailed desk-based analysis.

I started by identifying over thirty AM/3DP processes that purported to produce micro-scale components. I then looked at the geometric capabilities of each process, along with the material properties of the parts produced. I also reviewed the productivity of each process, along with the technology platform cost. This analysis provided the intelligence and insight BMF needed to best position their machines within the market. But which market?

To answer this, I then looked outside the AM/3DP sector into the wider Micro-manufacturing domain, sourcing and analysing detailed market intelligence on micro-injection moulding and micro polymer machining. By analysis the vertical market applications, supply chain dynamics, industry players and geographic distribution of the supply chain, I was able to help BMF understand which geographic markets and industry verticals present the most significant opportunities for their technology.

I then looked in detail at almost twenty of the most common plastics being used in traditional micro-manufacturing, to understand why different polymers are selected and the properties needed for various applications. I then identified and compared the properties of over 230 photocurable materials, that could, in theory, be used in the BMF process. This insight now allows BMF to map customer applications and requirements against available photocurable resins. It also lets them see where the market opportunity is for micro-scale applications such as form, fit and functional prototyping and end-use part production, based on material capability.

Finally, to widen the market opportunity, I looked outside of commercial manufacturing to identify other applications for the BMF technology within the research domain. I started by analysing the current BMF customer install base. From this, I was then able to identify over 200 other senior research academics and almost 100 global research centres that could benefit from access to the PµSL process.

So what did BMF think of my work?

Boston Micro Fabrication CEO John Kawola“Working with Phil was a not only a pleasure, it was very high value.  He has a unique ability to dig deep on the technology while keeping product/market fit considerations in mind at all time. His work will really help us stay focused on markets where we can win and will provide a roadmap in defining solutions for new applications.”

If you want to know more about the insight gained from this project or more general information on the BMF technology offer, there is a one-hour on-demand webinar now available to view at the Techbreif website, where myself and John Kawola discuss in details the capabilities of PµSL.

 

Reeves Insight supports Viaccess Orca launch a Secure Manufacturing Platform for AM/3DP supply chains

About 18-months ago, I was introduced to a company working in the Pay-TV sector. Given that I am a 3D printing consultant, this did seem a little strange at the time. However, over the last 18-months, I have come to understand why the guys at Viaccess-Orca (VO) wanted my help.

For those not familiar with VO, let me enlighten you. The company is a wholly-owned subsidiary of global telecoms giant Orange. It has been providing the secure digital infrastructure needed to deliver TV, film, and media into the homes of millions of global subscribers for over 20-years. So what does Pay-TV have to do with Additive Manufacturing (AM)?

Surprisingly, there are a lot of similarities. Or should I say, ‘in the future’, there will be a lot of similarities!

Let me explain.

The digital infrastructure behind Pay-TV is there for the benefit of both customers and suppliers. Customers get access to the content they want when they want it, and the ability to view that content across multiple devices bought from numerous consumer electronics companies. From iPad’s and tablets to OLED TVs, smartphones, and game consoles.  Supplier, on the other hand, can deliver their content into millions of homes in the knowledge that content is being provided securely and at optimum quality to the right customers at the right time. But again, what does Pay-TV have to do with AM?

I firmly believe that the AM industry is reaching a watershed, where many technology adopters are now ready to transition from process validation to part production. For many companies, this transition will be made internally, building up machine capacity on the shop-floor. However, many companies that are looking at AM today have no intention of purchasing machines. These are the companies that outsource part production to trusted 3rd parties.

Many companies that outsource have now gone through the process of internal validation and becoming the ‘intelligent customer’ and are now ready to exploit the benefits of a digitally distributed AM supply chain. A supply chain that will share many of the attributes of Pay-TV, where different formats of high-value data will need to be transferred securely and seamlessly between multiple parties to be used on numerous technology platforms made by various vendors. Step forward, VO.

Over the last 18-months, I have been supporting VO in their understanding of the AM value chain, and the way data is generated, manipulated, and used in our industry. From 3D CAD and support structure generation to slicing and build file parameters.

Along the way, VO joined the 3MF consortium. The 3MF Consortium is a group of leading AM hardware and software companies developing interoperable standards for the benefit of technology users. With VO’s support, the 3MF Consortium recently unveiled its Secure Content Specification. VO also announced the release of its Secure Manufacturing Platform bringing its 20-year legacy from Pay-TV into the AM/3DP industry.

I was delighted to be asked recently by Alain Nochimowski Chief Technology Officer (CTO) at VO to facilitate a webinar to launch both the Secure Manufacturing Platform and the secure content specification. The webinar can be viewed on Demand at the TCT website and includes some great insight from Alain on the parallels between Pay-TV and AM.  The webinar also includes an overview of the Secure Content Specification by Martin Weismann from AutoDesk and a great demonstration of how the technology could be applied to the medical device supply chain by Scott White from HP.

I have certainly learned a lot about Pay-TV over the last 18-months and according to Alain Nochimowski EVP of Innovation, VO has learned a lot more about Additive Manufacturing. “Working with Phil has been a really enjoyable and insightful experience. There is no doubt that his professionalism and deep understanding of 3D printing make him a reference in the industry”.

Phil talks to Joris & Maxwell at 3DPrint.com about the AM/3DP industry response to Covid-19

I was recently interviewed for a PodCast by Joris Peels from 3Dprint.com, where we discussed the AM/3DP industry response to the Covid-19 crisis. Like many people, I have been watching closely how 3D Printing has been used to respond to the global pandemic. I have been in awe at the level of innovation and commitment made by so many people. From the great work on the rapid design of emergency respirators by my good friend Magi Galindo at Laitat, through to the fantastic job of the FabLab in Milan to manufacture replacement oxygen control valves.

However, I have also been concerned with several press reports relating to the manufacture of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) including face shields, visors and masks. The problem I have is that many of these well-intentioned uses of AM/3DP fail to consider the regulatory environment and the vital role that standards and CE marking play in keeping people safe. Let me expand?

Within Europe (and Post Brexit UK) all PPE must carry a CE mark. CE marking is not as simple as many people would think. Just placing the letters CE onto an item doesn’t make it conform. To achieve a CE mark, a product needs designing and manufacturing according to stringent standards. CE marking is not as some would suggest there to drive up the cost, but to keep the wearer safe. After all, what is the point of unsafe PPE?

During the COVID crisis, there have been numerous stories of non-CE market PPE finding its way into hospitals and onto healthcare professional and patients alike, and I fear that 3D printed PPE may be no different. Much of the 3D Printed PPE that I have seen has been designed around the constraint of the manufacturing processes rather than the applicable standards. To this end, it could be argued that it is inherently unsafe. But it doesn’t need to be!

There has been some fantastic work on the rapid design, development and manufacture of 3D Printed PPE, which considers all applicable standards while maximising the global availability of AM/3DP capacity. Take, for instance, the great work of the guys at Nottingham University who were approached by their local NHS trust to help with face visors.

The Nottingham approach was to identify an open-source visor designed for manufacture using the HP MJF process. They then reviewed the appropriate British Standards for PPE before making the necessary design modifications. By locking the design to manufacture using Nylon PA 12 (MJF or LS) and fully documented the manufacturing processes, they were able to satisfy the PPE for Healthcare Professionals 2020/403 – Eye protection Technical Specification within just 10-days. The University and several industrial partners have now delivered over 5,000 approved face shields to Nottingham NHS trust.

What I find interesting is that although we talk about AM/3DP disrupting supply chains, there has, until now been very little evidence of this happening, mainly because there has been no need. However, what COVID has shown us, is that with good engineering practice and an awareness of appropriate standards, AM/3DP can be a highly effective and positive supply chain disruptor.

If you want to know more, why not give the  PodCast a listen.

Reeves Insight helps Maddam Tussauds keep delighting visitors with invisible 3D Printing

As a 3D printing consultant, you get to work with just about every sector of the economy. I have been very fortunate over the last 20-years to work with some fantastic companies, from global brands in aerospace, fashion, healthcare and automotive to small start-ups and lone inventors. However, once in a while, you get to work on a project that just makes you smile. I recently completed one of those projects for a company called Merlin Entertainment.

Merlin is one of the worlds largest theme park and attractions companies with literally hundreds of venues around the world. Along with rollercoasters, aquariums & LegoLand, Merlin also owns the iconic Maddam Tussauds attractions. Started over 200-years ago, Maddam Tussauds now has attractions across Europe, North America, Asia and Australia. For those not familiar with Tussauds these attractions all house lifesize and lifelike waxworks of historical and cultural figures, from world leaders, to pop-stars, action heroes, and film stars. The level of detail in these figures is truly breathtaking as are the skills of the fantastic team at Merlin Magic Making (MMM) in London where all the characters are made.

Although the skills and attention to detail at MMM remain unchanged since the days of Maddam Tussaud herself, the use of new technologies has enabled the company to reduce the time it takes to go from the first ‘sitting’ with the ‘talent’ to the grand unveiling of the character. As you would expect, 3D Printing is one of these technology.

I first met the guys at MMM over 6-years ago when I was running Econolyst. So I was delighted to be contacted by them again so many years later and asked to help them continue their ‘digital journey’.

I started by mapping out both their current digital and physical processes. This included the 3D scanning of faces and high-resolution photography of the eyes, to the intraoral scanning of teeth. I then looked at the manufacture and use of master patterns, molds, glass fiber-layups, and of course the casting, finishing, and painting of wax. From heads and hands to eyeballs and teeth, from shoes and jewelry to belts and buckles. I then mapped out the possible insertion points for 3D Printing before establishing the potential time and cost savings of using the technology.

Having understood where 3D Printing could add value, I then went on to identify the most appropriate technologies for the different applications. Having established this, I then helped Merlin to source a series of benchmark parts from independent 3rd party suppliers, which we then assessed. I then helped the procurement team within Merlins parent company to prepare an invitation to tender for a range of AM/3DP machines. In parallel, we also started mapping out the people, skills, and competencies needed to hit the ground running. Suffice to the say; the project was a great success.

Today, Merlin has a fantastic 3D Printing capacity and capability, which is being driven by some of the most innovative digital workflows I have ever seen. I just hope I get another call in 5-years time so I can keep on smiling.

Government agencies ask Reeves Insight to document AM/3DP business case development

Over the last 20-years, I have helped numerous companies to develop the business case for investment in AM/3DP hardware, software, facilities, and people. No two applications are ever the same, unlike the factors which must be considered, which are always the same. Namely, how will AM/3DP contribute towards either topline revenue growth or bottom-line profitability, and how will you achieve the fastest return on investment with the least risk?

With topline revenue growth, the drivers are all about product innovation and how AM/3DP can be used to manufacture better, more innovative, and higher-value products that meet and exceed customer expectations. With bottom-line growth, it’s all about productivity and using AM/3DP to address the different wastes associated with lean manufacturing.

Once a company can position AM/3DP against these primary business benefits, they then need to consider the cost implications of technology adoption, which is where experience and insight come into play. Knowing where the hidden costs of AM/3DP are, and the potential pitfalls can help companies to accelerate their adoption with minimal risk. But knowing where the costs are and what those risks might be is difficult if you are new to AM/3DP.

This problem has not gone unnoticed by government agencies trying to support the adoption of AM/3DP. I was approached in early 2019 for a solution by the UK Government agency UK Research & Innovation and the British Standards Institute (BSI).

The request was simple “Phil, can you write a document that provides a common framework, for building and assessing the business case for investment in AM/3DP.”

Working with BSI & UKRI, I pulled together an industry steering group representing a cross-section of experienced AM/3DP technology users from different sectors, along with machine vendors, financial institutions, industry bodies, trade groups, and regulators. We then developed and agreed on a framework, which considers the business benefits, functional and people implications, risks, and supply chain disruption that AM/3DP presents. Our goal was to write a document that could be used by both company finance directors and CFO’s along with those people looking to secure finance from their senior management. In effect, a ‘common framework’ for AM/3DP technology evaluation and adoption.

After over 12-months of collaboration, I am delighted to say that the first draft of BSI PAS6001 will be made available for public consultation in June 2020, with full publication planned later in the years.

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