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If there's even the slightest chance of a supply chain issue, Douglas Bingham and his team are on the case. They're responsible at Honeywell Aerospace for crucial auxiliary power units and generators used on airplanes. Any disruption or delay could have a far-reaching impact, so identifying issues before they happen is a vital part of the job.
Bingham ensures that the entire bill of materials for every product and part is on the assembly line in time and growing to meet customer demand. This duty encompasses a range of different processes and manufacturing technologies. Of those technologies, additive manufacturing has proven invaluable — even if Bingham believes its full potential has yet to be realized.
We spoke with Bingham, VP of Supplier Readiness at Honeywell Aerospace, to learn how his organization uses additive manufacturing, the importance of material characterization, and the potential obstacles companies might face when adopting new technology.
How do you use additive manufacturing at Honeywell Aerospace?
I'm proud to say we have parts in production flying on airplanes. However, we're always trying to get more experience with additive manufacturing. We use it extensively for making prototype hardware and tooling to help speed our new product development. In our supply chain, we mostly use it to fill gaps. That could be because of a part shortage. Or it could be a rare part for a legacy platform where it's difficult to do a cold start and still meet the customer's needs.
How can this be used to help with supply chain risks?
Additive manufacturing does a great job of filling those gaps. Strategically, additive can unlock a ton of speed, especially at the point of use. And you can use your imagination for what the point of use might be. It might be at the assembly line. It could be with the customer. It could be at the location where you need repairs and overhauls.
We see the importance from a supply chain standpoint. We can store powder instead of thousands of SKUs. Once the process is developed for a part, we can print on demand and manufacture with less cycle time. On the design side, it allows us to unlock performance features that you haven't been able to do from a traditional manufacturing standpoint.
Where is the aerospace industry today when it comes to additive manufacturing?
I think the aerospace industry is in its early stages. Aerospace is a slow adopter for all the obvious reasons, such as strict regulations.. To progress in the aerospace industry, you must demonstrate that you understand how the material will perform. Only then can you start to design.
Material characterization takes a lot of time, testing, analysis and iterations.. You can do all these tests, and before you know it, you're ten years in and only now talking about converting your first parts to additive manufacturing. This is because you need to be confident that that part will perform exactly how you intend it before putting it on an airplane. If you don't have that confidence, you will not be successful. And I think that's why adoption in aerospace has been so slow.
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Even if adoption is slower in the aerospace industry compared to other sectors, Honeywell Aerospace has successfully adopted additive manufacturing for many applications. What has helped the company achieve this?
We saw the opportunity early on. Honeywell has always been a technology company. We pride ourselves on the technology we developed and how we insert it into our products. We had our leadership's support to invest and explore the potential of additive manufacturing. It wasn't like, "Hey, we think this is cool; we're going to invest in it." Instead, it was a closed-loop plan where we really defined where we wanted to use the technology.
When you put together that type of strategy and have that type of leadership support, everybody understands the vision and how it will be adopted to create customer value. That's how organizational support was built.
What are the biggest challenges you're facing now in increasing additive manufacturing adoption?
It's finding the right support throughout the value stream. We have our designers, and we have our material experts. But even when we have the material characterization data that says this will work, we still must go and convince our customers who may not have the material characterization data. And they have different playbooks.
In addition, some parts of the additive process aren't very well understood by everyone. People have this idea where they think, "Hey, I can just print this on demand and get a part," but it doesn't work like that. You must control the equipment and processes to ensure the part you print is going to perform exactly like you expect it to.
How you develop a repeatable additive printing process takes time. It's not just like you press the button and "boom," it's done.
What advice would you offer a company new to additive manufacturing?
Understand what you want your core to be because the options and potential are limitless. And if you don't have that discipline, you will end up spinning in circles and not making traction anywhere.
What segment do you want to provide to? What types of parts do you want to provide? How are you going to differentiate yourself from the competition that's out there? Anybody with access to money can buy a printer. So how are you going to be different?
The barriers to entry for additive manufacturing are not high. You must figure out what you want, what you want to be, and then get really good at it.
Thanks to Douglas Bingham, VP of Supplier Readiness at Honeywell Aerospace, for taking the time for this interview.