Chris Krampitz and Onno Ponfoort
L to R: Chris Krampitz and Onno Ponfoort
Someway through this interview with Chris Krampitz, Director of Innovation and Strategy at UL, there’s a startling statistic about the skills crisis that manufacturing could face in the future. UL, the global independent safety science company, is trying to address the issue and at TCT Show + Personalize 2015 its presence could be felt not just on the show floor but also on the seminar stage.
We caught up with Chris during the show to find out what UL are doing to address the issues that emerging technology like 3D printing brings to manufacturing.
Q: UL have become quite a prominent force in the additive manufacturing industry already, can you quickly give us an overview of UL and what it is the company is hoping to achieve?
A: We're a safety and quality company that's been on mission since 1894 starting with electrical and fire hazards, that's been our tradition over the last 100 years plus and we're bringing that expertise to additive manufacturing (AM). We've identified the need in AM for somebody to come in to help manufacturers adopt the technology in the parts that they are hoping to produce, the equipment that's being used and the facilities that are producing these parts. Specifically in the AM field we're looking at developing a conformity assessment programme to help manufacturers asses the conformance of their products and their facilities to industry standards, safety standards, any specific regulations or any customer specifications. Our training programme, is part of that conformity assessment, we have a training programme and a professional certification.
Q: What is the main issue that additive manufacturing raises for the broader manufacturing industry?
A: The big issue is because the technology is not broadly understood, there's a lot of variables that affect the ultimate performance of the part, you can manipulate performance of a part very easily and while that is one of the great features of additive manufacturing but it is also one of the weaknesses as you have to understand the variability. That's the landscape at the moment, manufacturers are looking for somebody to help and assist in understanding that variability and how to reduce variability in the process to meet technical requirements.
Q: Is UL focussing on one specific technology or a broader range?
A: We work across all technologies; we started in metals because that's where a lot of our customers were looking to get into AM for production parts, our focus is production parts. We are also building programmes specifically for polymer composites and ultra ceramics. We see those materials, in that order, as being the wave of development for production parts.
Q: Why does the industry need somebody like UL?
A: One of the things we saw immediately in our strategic research into this industry is that there is a lot of research being done at large corporations and at universities, the large corporations may have been using the technology in-house for themselves but none of that research was being transferred to manufacturing and so SMEs were not benefitting from all that research and they were having a hard time accessing that. We saw that as a huge gap in the adoption of the technology and that was one of the reasons we wanted to develop a training programme to educate people on how to do this well.
Many have voiced happiness on us developing this programme because it is clearly something that is lacking. You see a lot of other organisations out in the industry that are putting together one off courses here and there, they're great courses, but what is lacking is an integrated programme that you can move and develop with it. A lot of the courses out there are just for educational purposes; they don't lead to anything that is meaningful in terms of implementing the technology to manufacturing.
Q: There seems to be new machines on almost a daily basis at the minute with each one offering unmatched levels of ease-of-use but do you think there will still need to be people operating machinery in years to come?
There is a large gap in skills in this industry, we see a lot of the people using the technology are at Master's or PhD level because that's were the technology has been used for the last couple of decades, but we don't see enough manufacturing engineers or operators with knowledge enough to make parts that are compliant with regulations and technical requirements, they don't understand those factors. One of the issues that really concerns us is that overall in manufacturing we're seeing a shortage in skilled labour, by 2025 some studies are showing that we're going to have about 90 million jobs that will go unfilled that are highly skilled manufacturing jobs. That's overall in manufacturing but when you focus in on additive the problem becomes more severe because the pool of knowledgeable candidates is even smaller and other manufacturing is going to draw away people from additive. We see this as a huge problem that needs to be addressed in the market in order to continue the growth of the industry.
Q: We keep seeing requests for governments to invest in the education, do you think that the next generation will be fully versed in 3D technologies?
A: The way I see it is that without any government investment kids today are experiencing 3D technology through gaming culture, many children today are much better 3D designers than most adults because of the technology they've been using. The market is naturally training them in those skills and they are prepared to jump right into 3D printing without any investment from the governments. I actually think that a natural way for us to think is three dimensionally and some of us who went to school 20-30 years ago were trained to think two dimensionally so we could do drafting on paper.