“Yes, that’s right, tiss-en-krup,” Lilyana Stoyanova, Marketing Business Analyst at thyssenkrupp Materials UK confirms as we reconnect over Teams, three weeks after our first meeting at TCT 3Sixty where I’d almost definitely pronounced the materials specialist’s name incorrectly. A helpful video on thyssenkrupp’s website showing several mispronunciations proves I’m not alone and emphasises a clear mission that underscores my conversation with the team: thyssenkrupp wants the additive manufacturing (AM) industry to know its name.
“In our particular fields, in aerospace metals, in automotive and motorsport metallics, the name thyssenkrupp carries a lot of weight, a lot of expertise and a lot of knowledge. People want to deal with us,” explains Nigel Evans, Head of Business Development at thyssenkrupp Materials UK. “We were really surprised at [TCT 3Sixty], a lot of people hadn’t heard of thyssenkrupp which has always been quite challenging for us and quite strange because we’re not used to that.”
While at first glance, that might seem bullish, Evans makes a fair point. The thyssenkrupp Group is renowned for its steel production with over 200 years of industrial history behind it, serving countless sectors from mining and metals to aerospace and oil & gas, across its 480 worldwide locations. The Group is made up of largely independent industrial and technology businesses, one of which is materials distributor and service provider thyssenkrupp Materials UK, which recently unveiled its new offering to the metal AM market.
“It’s sort of an evolution for us into the additive manufacturing market,” Evans said. “We’ve been through the stages at the moment where we’re taking metal away from the components that we’re making, the next stage is to actually create the component from the powdered metal and kind of grow the product.”
For the wider thyssenkrupp Group, the move to additive began with the launch of its AM TechCenter in Mülheim in 2017. The centre was established to explore the technology’s potential and, as a materials supplier with its own raw materials department, it made sense take a closer look at the materials side too. The company has spent time carefully evaluating the right powders, chemical compositions, particle size distribution, flowability, limitations – the kinds of details those customers in the highly regulated industries that thyssenkrupp serves would be paying close attention to – and is now ready to provide to the market.
There are many challenges within the metal AM process. Even the sourcing route for AM materials is entirely different to the traditional mode of selling materials. So different in fact, Evans, who has a wealth of experience across aerospace, defence and machining industries, jokes that for the first time in his 35-year career, he finds himself presented with a blank sheet of paper and conversing with universities, technology centres and machine vendors (some of which already use thyssenkrupp metals to manufacture said machines) to devise a new strategy.
“We’re setting ourselves up as a supply chain partner and partner of choice,” Evans elaborated. “We’re not just selling a piece of metal, we want to supply a process, we want to look at where they’re going with it. So, we’re having to change the way we’re selling. What I think has happened is a lot of the people we’re speaking to aren’t changing the way they’re buying. They’re still buying like it’s 1984. You know, ‘Who’s the cheapest price?’, ‘Where can we get it from?’ And ‘I like dealing with Dave’. We’ve got to change that mentality.”
Any switch to additive usually calls for a change in mindset. According to Evans, early conversations with aerospace customers have shown that the industry knows it’s coming but some businesses aren’t quite ready to adopt. Sebastian Richter, Head of Metal Powders argues that the pandemic hasn’t helped either as the lack of in-person contact has prevented would-be users from experiencing AM’s potential first-hand. It’s a different and more cautious view to many others in the AM industry who believe the pandemic has given AM an opportunity to showcase its unique benefits over traditional manufacturing routes, but Richter remains positive that there’s a place for AM alongside existing manufacturing setups.
Richter said: “When you are in a production job site like we have for Materials Services in the UK, where you have a milling machine and right next to it you have a printer and everybody knows how to use it, then I think that’s the future of this technology and of this industry.”
In what the company believes to be a unique offering to the market, thyssenkrupp Materials UK has introduced a post-build service, leveraging its large portfolio of in-house, machining centres across the UK to deliver a more efficient production process from material selection to verified finished part. Customers can work with thyssenkrupp to identify the optimum materials for their parts, print them and have them post-processed by a range of surface finish options offered via thyssenkrupp’s network of 5-axis machining platforms. It’s all part of its Materials as a Service (MaaS) offering which allows thyssenkrupp Materials UK to oversee the entire AM thread depending on the customer’s needs.
“We market ourselves as a one stop shop for additive manufacturing,” Iryna Smokovych, Powder Metals Engineer explained. “We are also a supply chain solutions provider, and it applies for additive, it applies for all other Materials as a Service projects. We can just supply the material, and that’s fine but we can also support the whole supply chain if the customer needs it. We can supply the finished product if they require.”
thyssenkrupp Materials UK keeps a selection of sustainably sourced metal powders in stock including stainless steel, aluminium, titanium and nickel-based alloys, but in the UK, it’s also manufacturing its own AM powders for powder bed fusion and electron beam melting processes including common grade materials and bespoke customer formulations. thyssenkrupp’s global presence, supply chain experience, and network of sites means it is able to react quickly and provide this service to customers on a global scale. Though, even with the pull of a big name, Evans says providing that local element remains important.
Evans added: “It’s something we’ve been doing in the UK for a long time – value added, additional manufacturing or now MaaS and for me, additive manufacturing is one of the technologies and one of the processes that I feel fits in and encompasses this completely. It is a new market for us and it’s a different type of selling that we’re having to look at and it’s a different route but one I think that is going to be essential for us moving forward, that we are aligned with our colleagues in Germany and ensure that we can join in what I feel to be the next stage of evolution for a metal supplier.”
This article first appeared in TCT Magazine Europe Edition 29.6
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