A chemical engineer by training, Oliver Hanitzsch started his career in powdered materials where he gained an understanding of powder production, handling, and performance. This provided a strong foundation to make a switch from the chemical to the additive industry when he joined Praxair Surface Technologies. This experience in consumables introduced him to a variety of additive technologies and applications. “I’ve seen so many shops running AM machines, from laser powder bed fusion or DED machines to electron beam and binder jetting, and even more traditional technologies like MIM. It’s important to be a quick learner in this industry, and that’s easy because there’s so much to learn about all the aspects of additive. I got an understanding of how the metallurgy is acting differently in each process and I learned so much about how to use metal powder,” Hanitzsch said, adding that the experience also helped him learn where certain technologies fit or, sometimes more importantly, where they don’t.
He’s excited about the opening of an ExOne Adoption Center devoted to metal at the company’s European headquarters in Germany. “The European market has been dominated by lasers for decades because of the German innovators who developed the first powder bed fusion machines,” Hanitzsch said. With the new center at the heart of Europe, he invites customers to come interact with the binder jetting technology, collaboratively develop their process, and produce components from design to printing and sintering.
Powder metallurgy has been around for ages. MIM shops sinter production parts every day. They know how the metal acts. But there is hesitation in additive because sintering is an ‘unknown’. We just need the knowledge transfer.
Regional Sales Manager
With a facility to provide full support for customer, Hanitzsch sees himself as more of a technical consultant to customers than a sales representative. From identification of parts for additive to discussions around production processes, he works with customers to set expectations about the true production success of binder jet. “I don’t approach conversations to sell a machine, I want to find out if the technology makes sense. Our goal is for you understand what is possible and find the best path to get you there. The sales part of me is that I want you to be a repeat customer – but I will only achieve that if you are successful,” he said.
The Metal EAC will allow him to provide full support for customers through a combination of business development, process benchmarking, and technical discussions. “Just because you can print it successfully isn’t the end of the story,” Hanitzsch explained. “We have to ask how we are going to depowder hundreds of parts without breaking the next layer, for example. There are many “challenges” that can be overcome, they just need to be planned for, so it’s essential we ask if the customer has considered this to put them on the path to success. It’s not just selling a machine, but understanding the process. Otherwise, I cannot be of help to them.”
He uses sintering as an example of how the dream of “just press print” and the reality of uninformed customers collide. “Powder metallurgy has been around for ages. MIM shops sinter production parts every day,” he explained. “They know how metal acts. But there is hesitation in additive because sintering is an ‘unknown’. We just need the knowledge transfer.”
And that’s where he sees the metal Adoption Center playing a role, noting that it’s hard to be a technical guide with just presentation slides. Hanitzsch sees it as essential for customers to be able to see the binder jetting process and get a feel for how a machine runs and how sintering fits into the process chain. And once they understand that, he says, “They also understand that our material limitation is really just a question of can you sinter it? And usually the answer is yes, so, with some parameter development, you can process almost any material.”
As a technical consultant, Hanitzsch notes that he has to meet a variety of customers where they’re at in their adoption of additive manufacturing. “We need to transfer sintering into the minds of the laser powder bed fusion users so they can realize the production speeds of binder jet,” he said, adding, “And we need to transfer the 3D printing process knowledge to the MIM shops so they can take advantage of the design freedoms and fast turnarounds of additive. Then we need to meet the users new to additive at the start of their journey to transfer the principles of Design for Additive Manufacturing (DfAM) so they can understand what components in their application are ideal candidates for binder jetting production.”
Alternatively, Hanitzsch says consultancy is also about saying no when binder jetting isn’t a fit and helping guide the customer to a more suitable technology. He notes it’s critical to set expectations and not push something for the sake of a sale because the customer may end up disappointed and disengaged with the technology altogether. The experience of the ExOne team in understanding the restrictions and limitations of the technology provide a guide for customers to understand where binder jetting fits to unleash all the function, design, and material advantages of additive.
But telling a customer no to a metal print sometimes simply means pivoting their thinking to an indirect use of additive manufacturing. Hanitzsch explains how he approaches an application by first establishing “Print or Pour?” alluding to the fact that many foundries use sand 3D printing to create molds and cores for metalcastings. “For large parts a casting often makes sense. Direct metal 3D printing is sexy, but it’s not always the right fit,” he explained.
With the emergence of increasingly large metal additive systems, he notes how many are so attracted to the idea of printing a large metal part with lasers that they overlook the possibilities additive brings to castings. Still taking advantage of the freedom of design and shortened lead times of additive manufacturing with 3D printed sand molds and cores, by casting their part manufacturers don’t have to hope a laser build doesn’t fail on any of the thousands of layers or with three hours left on a week-long build, creating expensive scrap parts. “And what many manufacturers come to realize is they don’t need to re-qualify their part,” he emphasized. “The material and the production process to make the metal remains the same, we just change the way they shape the part.”
Hanitzsch appreciates the relationship building aspect of sales but notes that by being a solution provider he sees his role as advancing the adoption of additive manufacturing throughout the industry. He concluded by summarizing the opportunities 3D printing brings to market, and how 360° support he provides that stretches beyond just machine sales. “The innovations made possible by this technology are endless,” he said. “Even those customers who are just starting their additive journey today and aren’t ready to buy a machine, we are educating them on the possibilities. And I’m certain our I’ll see them again in the future – maybe they’re a buyer down the road or maybe they’re the founder of their own start-up that turns to binder jetting to bring their impossible design or product innovation to market.”