»Patience Is Key«
Interview & Photo: Thomas Masuch - 2019/09/09
The aviation industry can be an attractive area of business for suppliers. We recently spoke with Eric Wycisk, co-founder and managing director of Ampower, about the development of the supply chain for AM components in aviation.
In the aviation industry, OEMs seem to be happy to rely on their usual suppliers when it comes to 3D-printed parts, as well. Why are young AM companies finding it hard to gain a foothold here?
WYCISK: Up to this point, suppliers and service providers in the AM world have typically come from the prototyping sector, which is why they’re flexible. In certified manufacturing for the aviation industry, however, you have to follow rigid processes that always produce the same result. EN 9100 and Nadcap are the certifications required. Suppliers enter into long-term agreements and need to be able to deliver reliably. Meanwhile, they’re suddenly having to engage in intense price negotiations, as well. Series production in aviation is generally subject to very high requirements that entail a corresponding amount of effort with regard to qualification and certification. This in turn is fostering the development of the type of supply chain we’ve seen in milled components, for example.
What prerequisites does an aviation service provider have to meet?
WYCISK: It depends on what the OEMs need. In some cases, hundreds of samples are required in order to test all kinds of different properties, and the samples need to be verified by labs that are certified for aviation applications. The costs of a complex procedure like this can quickly reach six figures, and you can’t even be sure how big the orders will be in the near future – especially in the case of structural components.
Where is the most value created in the production of AM components for aircraft? Are there any parallels to other industries?
WYCISK: When it comes to parts that are critical to safety, the actual production only accounts for a third of the costs. The rest is post-processing and quality assurance. In the aerospace sector in particular, the cleaning of components also plays a significant role. The cost structure we have in aviation in this regard is similar to medical technology, where you also see just a few established suppliers. The companies that bring 3D-printed hip cups to market, for example, often manufacture them themselves.
What developments are you expecting in the years ahead?
WYCISK: The OEMs in aviation are in the process of getting their first components certified and putting them on the market. This is why we’re seeing a stronger focus on internal production, which also helps these companies continue to develop a better understanding of the processes involved. In our view, suppliers aren’t going to need greater production capacities until a few more years have passed. At the same time, it’s important that potential suppliers establish the required processes and get their manufacturing certified in order to meet some of the growing demand. For now, however, they’re going to need to be patient.