"The focus has to be on products and services
1. Mr. Willemin, you have worked in various positions at SGL Carbon and recently moved to 9T Labs. What attracts you about your job there?
Indeed, at SGL Carbon I was able to get to know different business units, departments and positions. The focus was always on one thing: improving or redefining products and services together with the users.
In my last role as Head of Innovation Strategy, I observed and analyzed many promising solutions. One development that I find particularly interesting is the convergence of software, machine technology and materials for novel process chains.
In order to be able to dedicate myself to this topic in a more focused way, I decided to switch to 9T Labs at that time. This remains a very good decision. Here we are all working together towards one goal: to make the production of composite materials as easy as that of metals. To achieve this, we work very closely in a team and with the users. This mix of advanced technologies and interactions with diverse people, who are all thought leaders in their fields, is a daily pleasure!
2. Is your technology applicable with other types of fibers? How economical are these components?
We are currently focusing on carbon fibers, but are open to integrating other fibers into our material portfolio. The components are economical because these new complex automated fiber deposition processes allow for optimal component behavior. This means that carbon fiber is only printed if the stiffness is also required, otherwise the more cost-effective thermoplastic (PA12 or PEKK) is used for printing.
3. The process saves production costs in the long term, but certainly also requires high start-up investments. For whom is the product solution you have developed worthwhile?
For any company looking for innovative solutions to revolutionize their serial production of "small" (350mm x 250 mm x 270 mm) composite parts. We see the trend in B2C for some years now, everything is rented, rarely a product is bought, be it the vacation apartment in the mountains or the flat screen in the living room. We count ourselves among the innovative B2B companies that offer production solutions for rent. This helps our customers to overcome the hurdle of high start-up investments. In addition, we accompany the customer all the way to serial production, we identify together the suitable application, help the product designer with the optimal fiber design and offer training to retrain the production staff on the new machines.
4. How do you assess the current developments and innovations in the field of additive manufacturing?
Over the last two decades, 3D printing has often been described as the revolutionary technology that will make all other (conventional) processes obsolete and allow 100% customization. This promise has not materialized, which has also led to disillusionment among users and investors. What has become increasingly apparent in recent years is that 3D printing can be used economically in series applications, but complementary to existing technologies and for series applications >10'000 parts per year. To this end, development in recent years has concentrated on productivity and part quality, with a focus on "post-processing" technologies and integrated manufacturing solutions.
5. Which impulses are needed to ensure that the European economic area benefits more from additive manufacturing?
Initiatives are needed that reward companies for using new manufacturing technologies in the context of Industry 4.0, not at the level of R&D or research projects, but for each serial component produced over a certain period of time (ramp-up phase). This would encourage the industry to focus much more on application development and less on technology development.