The Gatekeeper of the Technology

Text: Thomas Masuch; Photos: Gianluca Mattaroccia — 2019/05/30

When you discuss additive manufacturing with Gianluca Mattaroccia, you can’t fail to notice the fire in his eyes. AM inspires the 39-year-old. He speaks about the technology and the many opportunities it offers with all the enthusiasm of a car mechanic talking about a Ferrari or a violin maker about a Stradivarius.

According to Mattaroccia, AM changes everything. »There’s no end to how deep it will transform the manufacturing industry.« If Mattaroccia lacked this enthusiasm, he would probably still be one of 70 engineers in the development department of a major automotive component supplier in New York, creating design drawings of production equipment and managing orders with suppliers experienced in conventional machining processes.

But Mattaroccia pursued a career in additive manufacturing. At the outset, he was something of a lone wolf in a large, traditional company. Over the years, he overcame many obstacles and cleared the hurdles of skepticism. And perhaps it was no coincidence that his story was set in New York – a city that offers opportunities to those who dare to challenge the status-quo.

»The greatest challenge for me was convincing the skeptics.«

Mattaroccia had already experienced bumpy starts. After studying mechanical engineering in Cassino, Italy, he explains, »I wanted to learn English and so I came to New York.« But during his first job interviews, the response was: »I don’t know you. Why should I hire you?« So, to gain initial experience, Mattaroccia started at the very bottom. For the first three months, the then 26-year-old accepted to work without a salary. An evening job in a pizzeria enabled him to make ends meet. »What’s more, I spent more than an hour each day on the subway and then on the bus on the way to work,« he recalls.

His road to additive manufacturing was also paved with many attempts and failures. These days, he works as an equipment design engineer at Standard Motor Products, an international manufacturer of automotive spare parts headquartered in New York. »From 2015 onward, I followed the 3D-printing industry and asked myself as an engineer how I could make use of the technology.« He familiarized himself with the subject, consulted guides, and designed his first components for production use. »You simply have to try it out for yourself. After all, there’s no one around to tell you that if you want such and such a part with such and such properties, you have to make it from this material and using this manufacturing method.« After working hours, he honed his expertise with additional training in design for Additive Manufacturing at the MIT in Boston.

UNREALISTIC EXPECTATIONS

The introduction of AM was smoothed by the fact that the 3D-printed parts were used exclusively in production and development and therefore did not require certification. »Nevertheless, many managers often imagine that, if you have a 3D printer, all you have to do is push a button and the right part will come out.«

»The greatest challenge for me was convincing the skeptics.« Mattaroccia developed his own strategy to achieve this: On the one hand, he painstakingly noted all the savings and other benefits his company reaped by using additive manufacturing. »It’s more persuasive shifting the talk about the inefficiency and the waste of capital of an existing manufacturing process than it is to convince the executive team to invest in this game-changing technology.« And that’s why he believes it’s important for engineers to learn how to perform cost analysis.

This is especially true in the automotive sector: »It’s all about costs. This is the toughest industry. It’s characterized by low margins and high volumes.« And to paint a more complete picture, Mattaroccia didn’t just look at component costs when analyzing »waste eliminated« but, rather, at the process as whole – from design right through to using the parts on the production floor. He recorded the detailed results, created implementation road maps, outlined cost-saving strategies and presented his work at many conferences. The largest savings were generated by improvements such as shorter delivery times, reduced production downtimes, and a lower procurement cost. One electrical connector for testing stations saw production costs plummet from USD 1,300 to USD 280. »We save over $50k annually on this part alone,« says Mattaroccia. As he walks through SMP’s development department, he can show dozens of examples of this kind.

MERELY THE TIP OF THE ICEBERG

But there were also other favorable side effects. Thanks to the lighter weight of the additive components, shipping costs could be cut by 30%. »My engineering team develops, orders, and ships thousands of parts every year, and that soon adds up.« In light of this, the engineer comes to an amazing conclusion. If you add up all the savings, says Mattaroccia, »at our current implementation stage, every dollar invested in designing and making a part via additive saves the company five dollars in conventional manufacturing and another 3 dollars in the simplification of the supply chain.« And most companies are totally unaware of this. The use of AM in traditional production environments is still very low in many industries, but the potential is vast. »So far, we’re only seeing the tip of the iceberg.«

The engineer illustrates the scale of this iceberg with a simple calculation, showing that manufacturers could save big on costs by deploying AM on the manufacturing floor. »The global manufacturing sector generates about $12 trillion in annual revenue, according to the UN. The industrial machinery manufacturing market alone, is expected to reach a value of nearly $2.7 trillion by 2022.«

»If only 10% of the manufacturing companies would use AM to replace 10% of the components on their manufacturing equipment, that alone would save 27 billion dollars per annum.« But considerable efforts are still required to tap this potential. For example, Mattaroccia, sees training as a major hurdle: »There is still very little knowledge of additive manufacturing within companies, and it usually exists only in niches.« Additive applications are, therefore still limited by whether the right people with the right knowledge are present in the specific project meetings. »The engineers are the gatekeepers of the technology in every company, they are meant to bring innovation to the table, but without proper training and a vision from the executive leadership, often time they tend to ignore what is not conventional and not proven long enough. A dangerous overall slowdown.«

At SMP, Mattaroccia’s work is bearing fruit. Other engineers now share his enthusiasm for additive manufacturing. The use of AM is growing at a compound annual rate of more than 250%. This sharp rise was fueled by a wealth of vast design scenarios and tests on the production floor, leveraging the knowledge of our dedicated service providers. Of course, not everything was perfect on the first attempt. But, as Mattaroccia puts it, »my motivation was to complete a puzzle for my colleagues to use as a guiding map. And it didn’t matter if some solutions were wrong or right. It’s a beautiful scenario.«

EXPERIENCE THE BEAUTY OF AM

After five years implementing hundreds of additive parts in the SMP production process, Mattaroccia will this summer move to a totally different industry, as Engineering Director at Estée Lauder Companies Inc. His role there will require a higher level of technological sophistication: »Here, I want to enable consumers to directly experience the beauty of AM.« He believes that additive manufacturing in the consumer sector can help meet the ever-increasing demands of customers and sell and convey not only products but experiences.

In his new job, the engineer will remain in New York with his family. Even though the USA, and New York in particular, has not exactly made his career path an easy one, he also sees the positive side of his years spent on the banks of the Hudson River. »Sometimes you’re just a number here, but I’ve never felt like an outsider in New York. It makes no difference where you’re from. At the same time, the city offers you the chance to reinvent yourself every day.«