NO CHOICE BUT TO GROW

Text: Thomas Masuch; Photos: Additive Industries - 27/05/2018

Additive Industries wants to become a top-three manufacturer of 3D metal-printing equipment.

Despite his company’s young age, Daan A.J. Kersten wasn’t shy about the big plans he has for Additive Industries at formnext 2017: »We’re joining the race to the top!« He’s looking to establish the five-year-old Dutch firm as one of the top three in its industry. According to Kersten, Additive Industries and its 50 employees currently rank around seventh in the world. While his plans for growth are being driven by what he sees as the ongoing dynamic expansion of the surrounding market and industry, he reports that the arrival of huge corporations like GE and DMG is leading to consolidation, as well. »And that certainly won’t be the end of it,« he predicts.

For Kersten, the involvement of these heavy? weights has ramifications for the remaining manufacturers of industrial AM equipment. »It’s getting harder and harder for other players to survive in the market. Companies that stay relatively small will find it very difficult to continue on without partners,« he reveals.

"Offering fantastic systems and attractive software is all well and good, but ultimately, the whole thing just has to work."

Kersten thus believes that Additive Industries has only one option in responding to the developments taking place on the market. »We need to get bigger, and fast. Growth is the right thing to do in this market now,« he declares, adding that this is the only way to »be the masters of our own destiny«. On a side note, this echoes the belief that led Frank Herzog (the founder of Concept Laser) to agree to a partnership with GE (we have reported in our edition 01 2018).

NEW FACTORY IN EINDHOVEN

Meanwhile, Kersten is backing up his planned growth targets with real action: In April 2018 Additive Industries moved into a new factory in Eindhoven. »It’s going to give us plenty of room to grow,« he affirms. The company is also planning to double its workforce as it assembles and ships out 20 – 25 industrial units in 2018. The first thing you need to achieve this type of growth is, of course, money. When asked how Additive Industries is financing its plans for the future, Kersten points to one of the company’s biggest partners – a major family-run firm in the Netherlands that has made its investment part of its long-term plans.

Additive Industries’ expansion strategy is taking shape outside of Europe, as well. Besides the new outpost it is planning to establish in Singapore, the company opened its new Process & Application Development Center in Los Angeles in December 2017. With its 500 square meters offering space for 20 employees, the center’s proximity to the American aerospace industry in southern California should enable Additive Industries to share in this sector’s own strong growth. Kersten believes this move is full of potential, citing that »aerospace is where we’re seeing the most advanced AM applications«.

FOCUSING ON PRODUCTION

In Kersten’s view, his company’s pinpoint focus on what is essentially one product – the MetalFAB1 – is another fundamental aspect of how it will continue to succeed in its hotly contested market. In fact, this was already the plan back when the card-carrying mechanical engineer founded Additive Industries five years ago. Numerous players and machines were already on the market back then, but »they were all fixated on prototyping«, as Kersten puts it. »Our company, on the other hand, saw a lot of market potential in 3D printing finished components and designed a machine for that purpose.«

According to Kersten, 10 or 15 of these machines have been installed since Additive Industries delivered its first MetalFAB1 in 2016. Some of them are currently being used by beta customers that were offered discounts to help Additive Industries gather experience in specific applications. Here, the company has even convinced some well-known corporations to participate in this program based on one key factor in particular: »We’re really open to all kinds of innovations,« Kersten says.

PARTNERS OF CONSIDERABLE RENOWN

Additive Industries can indeed count on the backing of prominent and powerful associates: Airbus is putting a MetalFAB1 to use, and Additive Industries has also been a partner of Sauber Motorsport since the Swiss F1 team commissioned its own unit in October 2017. Meanwhile, the technology group GKN – one of the world’s largest producers of metal sintering powder – is already preparing to make the leap to series production (see our edition 01 2018).

Series production is also the ultimate aim of Additive Industries’ cooperation with the SMS group, which employs some 14,000 people around the world. Based in Düsseldorf, Germany, SMS wants to start using AM techniques to construct and sell entire turnkey plants featuring powder atomizers, CNC machines for postprocessing and quality assurance – and of course, MetalFAB1 units.

CLOSER AND CLOSER TO AUTOMATION

A technical innovation Additive Industries showcased at formnext 2017 represents the next step toward series production and automation. Product Removal, its latest component for the modular, extensible MetalFAB1, features a bandsaw and a three-axis milling machine.

The device removes excess powder from printed objects, separates them from the build plate, and mills the plate back down to its original state. While his company is still working on achieving 100% automation with the module, Kersten can already guarantee a high degree of reliability. »Offering fantastic systems and attractive software is all well and good, but ultimately, the whole thing just has to work,« he points out.

At formnext 2017, Additive Industries also demonstrated a new software solution de - signed to promote greater productivity within the build envelope. »The trend is toward incorporating more and more lasers, but their ability to function is also important,« asserts CTO Mark Vaes. The challenge, Vaes says, lies in controlling the lasers in a way that keeps them free of smoke, which is why the new software works with different parameters. Eventually, this innovation should enable the MetalFAB1 to reach production volumes of around 1,000 dm3 per year.

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