Additive manufacturing: From the perspective of the powder

Additive manufacturing is a tremendous disruptive wave. Dr Phil Carroll, LPW’s CEO, explains why an additive manufacturing company has to be both a supplier and a consultancy firm.

“Additive manufacturing is part of a tremendous disruptive wave” – image courtesy of LPW.

Dr Phil Carroll said, he enjoyed his past life as an engineer.

The CEO travelled around the world, set up processors for turbine companies in Japan and helped to implement new technologies in factories in Ireland.

However, the thrill of his job could not stop him from realising that the processes the company set up were not very stable, mainly stemming from the poor quality of the materials that were involved.

“When you put ‘rubbish’ in, you get ‘rubbish’ out,” Carroll said. The mantra was to set up a business which eliminates the bad quality of the material going into manufacturing processes, and to create more material control, and focus strictly on metal powders going into 3D printers.

“We are a machine tool manufacturer, not a process manufacturer, and we only focus on the powder and various processes.”

The company’s journey kicked off in 2012 when LPW purchased its first premises and took the first employee on board; at that time, Carroll started to make himself more familiar with the business side of engineering.

After around two years, the company’s business development hit a point when it needed new visions, plans and ambitions. The company did not only want to work on the quality of the materials, Carroll said, but to build the best factory in the world.

“I put various ideas on the piece of paper, defined where the journey should go to, got an investment bank involved, raised money and hired more (smarter) people.

“People are important, because without them we can’t create a business culture, an essential DNA which every company needs to be successful.”

Non-UK companies engage better in additive manufacturing

Carroll said that additive manufacturing is part of a tremendous disruptive wave.

“We see this irreversible trend towards additive manufacturing in supply chains and in investment casting; the key message is that companies which don’t move into it are getting left behind.”

However, there are two main barriers hindering companies to engage more with additive printed materials – costs and knowledge.

The lack of knowledge can be a major problem. Companies which don’t understand the technology miss out on grasping its potential benefits as well as the risks of not engaging into it.

It is crucial to fully get a right idea of how to effectively disrupt the own business, otherwise any business will seriously ruin its own possibilities.

“It would be too pessimistic to say that companies in general are not engaging. There are plenty of companies which do. But my feeling says that most of these companies are not based in the UK.

“Non-UK business are more advanced and more aggressive in their approach to this technology. That could be for cultural reasons, but in general UK companies don’t invest enough money in new technologies.”

Additive manufacturing is not a traditional technology

Additive manufacturing companies are not material companies in a traditional way, and additive manufacturing is not a traditional technology.

Carroll stated that LPW does not sell material to a company and then leave its clients alone with the product. An additive manufacturing company must engage with the clients on a high level and explain every detail of the process to them.

“We need to show them how this technology will change their business and how the additive manufactured material can be more integrated into the manufacturing cycles.

“In additive manufacturing, the material is used and repeatedly re-used within the printing process until it is melted to form a final part.”

The first time, when LPW delivers the product, the company acts as a supplier; afterwards, LPW turns into a consulting firm, because the customer becomes its own supplier, delivering its own material.

“After delivering the product, all the risks, liabilities and the problems fall upon the client; so, we need to help them, and engage with them to solve those problem. The way of selling and working in additive manufacturing must be more a consultative and relationship driven approach.”

Therefore, LPW has divided its product into two ranges, the PowderRange and the PowderLife.

“The PowderRange is an e-commerce type of business, the order comes in and will be delivered within 48 hours. The PowderLife covers all the other aspects of the business, the powder, the software, the sensors, the consultancy. All aspects merge into one business case.

“We are not just selling the powder, we are going into service problems, consultancy is part of the whole package.”

LPW took the top trophy at this year’s Sharing in Growth’s 2018 ALL STAR event in Nottingham. SiG announced that LPW is successfully targeting 30% year on year increases in sales by creating a new market and plans to hit £45m turnover by 2022.

Furthermore, the company is opening a new £20m purpose-built additive powder manufacturing plant in Widnes, has created around 70 jobs in the last two years and expects to recruit another 120 by 2020.