Executive Interview Series

INTERVIEW: Karsten Heuser on the Industrialization of Additive Manufacturing

In this interview, Karsten Heuser, Vice President for Additive Manufacturing at Siemens Digital Industries, details Siemens’ approach and advancements in additive manufacturing. 

Heuser’s role involves heading an internal program to utilize additive manufacturing technology across various Siemens divisions, such as trains, innovative infrastructure, and digital industries. He emphasized the importance of integrating automation, software, and digitalization to enhance the market capabilities of machine builders, product users, and designers.

Heuser outlined Siemens’ approach from a shift from viewing additive manufacturing as an isolated process to empowering an entire ecosystem for creating and scaling additive applications. He provided examples to illustrate this, such as advancing injection molding by producing molds with enhanced tools for better performance and advancing robotics by using lighter, 3D printed grippers that reduce carbon footprint. 

The Industrialization of Additive Manufacturing

The AM Industrialization Navigator (AM I Navigator) is an initiative aimed at structuring and guiding the industrialization of additive manufacturing. This cross-company effort involves collaboration with other companies, including BASF Forward AM, EOS, DyeMansion and HP, and aims to bring a more structured, navigated approach to additive manufacturing.

Heuser explains that the initiative draws from classical manufacturing methodologies, such as lean manufacturing. It involves a maturity assessment to identify starting points and steps for implementing lean culture adapted for the additive industry. This approach helps companies determine their position in the additive manufacturing process and plan improvements.

Heuser gave an example of an eyewear production partner in Munich, highlighting the necessity of considering factors like strategy, process, tools, and team competence. He emphasized that the level of automation should match the factory’s needs, whether it involves manual processes or advanced levels with robotics, AI, and connected machines.

The navigator aims to assist companies in structuring their production lines according to their specific needs. Heuser pointed out the inefficiency of having a fully automated printer paired with manual post-processing, emphasizing the need for a holistic approach.

The initiative is also an open invitation to the ecosystem, targeting two groups: those beginning their production journey and tech companies that contribute to the technology backbone for production levels. Siemens aims to foster a collaborative, open ecosystem where different parties can contribute and benefit.

Heuser expressed optimism about more companies joining this initiative, seeing it as a step forward in integrating and advancing additive manufacturing processes across different industries.

Siemens Additive Manufacturing key visual. Image via Siemens.
Siemens Additive Manufacturing key visual. Image via Siemens.

Challenges to the industrialization of additive manufacturing

Heuser first pointed out the knowledge gap in large factories, where staff are often unfamiliar with developing additive parts. To address this, Siemens has collaborated on a solution involving a software platform and a “hot box printer.” This printer is designed for ease of use, enabling operation without expert knowledge in additive manufacturing. The design and workflow are managed remotely, allowing integration into any production line. As Heuser explains, “everybody can switch it on and off, the whole design will be done elsewhere.”

Another significant barrier is the uncertainty about what to print. Siemens has incorporated a solution into their Siemens Xcelerator marketplace to help identify suitable parts for additive manufacturing. This involves software developed by a third-party company compatible with Siemens’ Teamcenter PLM system. It can analyze thousands of parts and determine their suitability for printing, efficiency, and carbon footprint reduction.

Heuser also discussed the AM Industrialization Navigator, a step-by-step approach to help companies transition from small-scale to larger-scale additive manufacturing. This tool is crucial in overcoming challenges like planning, automation, and financing. He emphasized that financing can often be a barrier, noting, “very often the barrier is capex,” and mentioned solutions like pay-per-use models.

Finally, Heuser highlighted the need for high-quality automation and process control, especially when producing large parts, to reduce failure rates and machine breakdowns. Siemens supports this through technology that enhances machine performance, thereby mitigating these risks. Heuser’s insights underline the complexity of transitioning to additive manufacturing, focusing on knowledge acquisition, part identification, financial considerations, and quality control as pivotal factors in this industrial evolution.

Creating sustainable and profitable business cases with additive manufacturing

The VP of Additive Manufacturing at Siemens also discussed the application of additive manufacturing in creating sustainable and profitable business cases. He emphasized the transition from experimental uses to practical, certified, and efficient manufacturing processes.

Heuser highlighted a success story with Sintavia, a U.S.-based company that has professionalized additive manufacturing to operate like a traditional factory. He pointed out the need to shift from the perception of additive manufacturing as a novel technology to a reliable and efficient manufacturing process. As Heuser explains, “But if you start to discuss with factory managers, these are pretty conservative guys. What is my carbon footprint? What does it cost?” He stressed the importance of communicating the benefits of additive manufacturing in terms that traditional manufacturers understand.

Heuser also noted the challenge of bridging the gap between early adopters and more conventional manufacturing environments, emphasizing the need to make additive manufacturing accessible to operators without advanced technical knowledge. He mentioned the industry’s progression towards this goal. He highlighted Siemens’ comprehensive end-to-end supply chain with software and automation, which is both integrated and open, allowing partners to develop their unique value propositions.

Market dynamics and trends

Heuser described the AM market as “still a strong growing market,” noting significant technological advancements, particularly from China. He mentioned the development of large metal machines with up to 26 lasers, capable of working with materials like steel, Inconel, and titanium. Heuser emphasized, “We still see a lot of innovation in the machine and the technology space.”

Heuser also noted the increasing maturity of metal printing technology and collaboration with companies like Digital Metal and Desktop Metal. He highlighted the entry of new industries into the AM market, including the pharmaceutical sector, with innovative applications such as printing medicine to enhance health treatments.

Discussing the industry’s challenges, Heuser pointed out that certification and standardization have been major hurdles, particularly in convincing stakeholders that additive-manufactured parts are as reliable as molded ones. He mentioned, “They struggled with convincing standardization that this certain additive-printed part is better or as good as a molded part.”

Sustainability emerged as a key driver in the conversation. Heuser stated, “The most powerful tool to circularity and sustainability is additive.” He stressed the underestimation of additive manufacturing’s role in reducing material consumption and its potential in recycling and refurbishing processes.

Summarizing the market’s state, Heuser described AM as a “horizontal key technology” impacting over ten vertical industries, each with its unique processes and applications. He emphasized the need for continued education, particularly in classical manufacturing sectors, to fully leverage additive manufacturing’s sustainable benefits.

Heuser emphasized the importance of Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) as an educational tool, helping to contextualize the cost of AM parts over their lifecycle. He acknowledged the emergence of new companies, particularly in China, offering competitive prices and contributing to changing market dynamics. These developments, according to Heuser, are positive for the global AM industry.

Addressing the growth rate of the AM industry, Heuser suggested consulting market reports for detailed analysis. He highlighted that different industries experience varied growth patterns within the AM sector. He noted that many innovations and applications, particularly in spare parts and repair, may not be fully captured in market reports. Heuser stated, “If companies are using this for spare parts, this is just one thing nobody is seeing.”

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Featured image shows Left to right: François Minec (Global Head, Polymers 3D Printing, HP 3D Printing), Martin Back (Managing Director, BASF Forward AM), Karsten Heuser (Vice President Additive Manufacturing, Siemens Digital Industries), Felix Ewald (CEO & Co-Founder, DyeMansion) & Nikolai Zaepernick (CBO, Managing Director, EOS). Photo via DyeMansion.