From the lab to the shop floor: a journey to industrialisation
£27 million investment sees launch of exciting high-tech facility
In December this year – in just a few weeks’ time from now – the team at Materials Solutions – a Siemens business will proudly open the doors to its new additive manufacturing (AM) factory in Worcester (UK).
As general manager of the new facility, I will be thrilled to welcome respected guests and colleagues to the official launch to help us celebrate the boundless opportunities this site will bring. We’ll be welcoming around 100 of our valued customers and members of the UK and global press, as well as leaders from our global AM team and chief executive of Siemens UK, Juergen Maier., plus the CEO of the Siemens Power and Gas Division, Willi Meixner.
My team and I are excited by the chance to show how our factory – which takes the total number of Siemens UK factories to 15 – will take a traditionally experimental laboratory process and turn it into a tangible, robust and valuable industrial practice.
Materials Solutions has been on an incredible journey since it was founded by Carl Brancher back in 2006. Over the years we honed our skills and developed our expertise in AM technology and have been privileged to work with customers from many different industries, including power generation, oil and gas, aerospace, automotive and motor sport.
It was because of our capabilities that we grabbed the attention of Siemens and, in August 2016, Materials Solutions was acquired by Siemens and we joined a global technology family. The rest, as they say, is history…. or, in our case, the future.
A quick explanation: 3D vs AM
I’m often asked what the difference between 3D printing and AM is. In simple terms, 3D printing is used primarily to produce rapid prototyping for showing the customer their component. It’s essentially a mock-up of a concept in 3D. Additive manufacturing is the technology that builds that 3D object into a workable, robust and usable component by adding layer-upon-layer of material such as metal or plastic to achieve a whole.
For Siemens, Materials Solutions is using AM to repair and refurbish hot gas path components but also to provide spare parts on demand for gas turbines. It will be used at our new factory to improve legacy parts or create an improved version in a way that couldn’t be done using traditional manufacturing methods.
Industrial methods will increase capacity.
This exciting £27 million investment by Siemens allows us to increase our AM capacity and focus on the industrialisation of the metals AM process by taking it out of the laboratory and into a production factory.
A few years ago, if you visited an AM facility, you would have seen perhaps one or two machines in a clean environment with engineers in white coats, doing lots of trials. We’ll be changing this image at Worcester by adopting more of a true industrial approach, using production flow and robust quality systems.
What you will see is a place that has a shop floor, multiple machines that will be working parts through various processes, and engineers making sure parts are compliant. You will see a place that employs typical manufacturing principles such as LEAN, visual factory, kanbans and other production techniques to improve productivity while ensuring highest quality of the product.
We’ll be taking advantage of some of the software-based tools that Siemens has to offer to help us develop a complete end-to-end process, maximising the potential of digitalisation and creating a true digital factory. Some of the software and systems we’ll be using are:
- Real-time location system to track capital equipment and inventory to establish the real-time location of work in progress.
- MindSphere cloud applications to monitor our factory environment and equipment.
- NX software to develop manufacturing methods and simulate the manufacturing process.
Countless opportunities. Reverse engineering.
With the opening of the new factory, we immediately have the potential to increase our current capacity from 17 to more than 50 machines and increase our post-processing capabilities. By doing this we’ll have better control over lead-time, quality and cost throughout the supply chain of the component prior to its delivery to our customer.
We will still make prototypes for our customers, but as some sectors, such as aerospace and automotive look to move their AM components into production and are looking for high quality AM suppliers I want them to think of Materials Solutions – A Siemens Business as being their partner of choice.
We were recently able to demonstrate the real opportunities of high-efficiency metals additive manufacturing by bringing a 100-year-old, Ruston Hornsby vintage car back to life using reverse engineering to recreate its steering box. All without any original technical drawings!
Using our latest scanning technology, we were able to digitally reassemble the parts of the broken steering box back together and create a working model which could be additive manufactured. It showed that you can use AM to design components that can’t be manufactured traditionally.
This opportunity will, doubtless, become more of a focus for us in the future when we’ll be work with our customers, in all industries, to show them what the possibilities and applications are.
The big goal.
The big goal for us now is it to really get behind the industrialisation of additive manufacturing. AM is still cost intensive, but by employing industrial methods to scale-up production we will be able to bring down cost by having the ability to manufacture parts repeatedly in a robust, industrial environment.
Although we like to say ‘If you can dream it, we can print it’ the reality still looks a bit more challenging. We advise our customers based on our long-time experience in designing for additive manufacturing and our material and process expertise to leverage the full potential of their components. Together with our partners within Siemens we are constantly enhancing our design, materials and printing capabilities to guide our customers towards AM industrialisation.
Open for business.
So, when those doors open in December we’ll look forward to supporting both our customers from the diverse industries we support, and Siemens as well. Our focus will be on growing our market presence and helping Siemens to support our growing list of customers in motorsport, aerospace, automotive and other industry sectors around the world. A perfect partnership!