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AM Community Conversation with Paul Bates, Additive Manufacturing Lead Project Engineer at ASTM International

Today on the AM Influencer Series, I am pleased to welcome our guest, Paul Bates, Additive Manufacturing Lead Project Engineer at ASTM International.

For more than a century, ASTM has been well known as one of the world’s largest and most established standards creating organizations. Today, ASTM also offers a wide range of products and services that go well beyond standards: training, proficiency testing, certification, and the new portal service Compass. These offerings significantly enhance the benefits ASTM provides to its stakeholders worldwide.

Paul has also worked advancing Additive Manufacturing at Underwriters Laboratories (UL) and Rebook for many years.

He has SME affiliation - SME AM Certification processes- Industry Partner, also AMUG past president. 

What was your first experience with Additive Manufacturing like?

My first one was at Reebok.  I had been a machinist for a long time and mold maker for many years and we needed a new way to craft samples.  In those days if you needed a sample, midsole or outsole, one of the factories would craft something together out of wood or body filler or foam and then ship it to you and in 30 days you would have a sample, and you would say boy, that is not what I want, I wish I had a different sample, or I wish I could make a change to it, but 30 days have gone by already.  So, it was a pretty big challenge.  We had looked at machining them and you can certainly machine these prototypes over time, but they are very complicated organic shapes and very difficult to machine easily and quickly.  I was doing some research through some trade journals, and I came across additive manufacturing or in that case rapid prototyping.  There were a couple different technologies available at the time.  There was vat polymerization, which is SLA.  There was powder bed fusion with polymers which was a DTM process SLS.  There was also FDM or material extrusion that was available in those days.  There were a few other esoteric things out there, there was some LOM, which is laminate object manufacturing that was available too in paper form, which was interesting, but we wanted something that was robust and the materials were relatively safe to work with.  Some of those technologies have safer materials than others.  We needed a level of speed and durability too, simply because, we may be shipping these prototypes around the world, and they needed to be strong enough to handle that.  So, we chose to get into SLS and my first experience was going down to DTM and seeing what they were doing at that time.  It was pretty remarkable.  At that time, they were still offering sand, as well as metal, and certainly their main product was polymers, and they had just gotten into Nylon 12, which was a recent launch for them.  It was such a great material to work with.  We hit the timing just right. 

What was the atmosphere with early prototyping?

I think the biggest challenge for us was CAD.  This was more than 20 years ago, and CAD today is you can jump on the internet and get a web browser and start drawing things up in 3D.  Where in that time period there was very few software programs that created good 3D models.  You could do some with surface modeling and wire frame and get close, but they weren’t clean models.  They had gaps in them and things that made them difficult to use additive manufacturing or rapid prototyping for.  They ran on Unix computers; this is before Windows NT really become launched.  For those who don’t want to look back that far, this was many iterations of Windows, when a mouse was new to the game for the Microsoft side of things.  It was a pretty big challenge to get the CAD going and to work with the various formats and conversions to finally get something we could print. 

What advice do you have for manufacturers that would like to learn about implementing or adopting AM?

It’s the same advice I followed more than 20 years ago, do your research.  Determine what your target is, what do you want to make?  Get a business plan.  Know what you are going to do, why you are going to do it, what is your return on investment, and what is the added value you can to bring to your organization.  If you have one problem and you are looking for a solution to that problem, that’s fine, that’s what we started with, but we created more solutions through time.  We did our research, and we knew we were getting a robust system that was going to work well and had quality materials, and safe materials.  We did the research on safety too.  What was it going to take to make sure if we had a material spill, could we deal with that?  Did we need to call in a third party to do a spill clean every time we spilled something?  We did a lot of that research and I still recommend now, know what you are going to get for the technology, understand it, and find out if it will be your problem-solving approach.  In our day, we were looking at rapid prototyping.  We just needed to make prototypes.  We didn’t have to worry about, is it going to be something that’s going to be utilized downstream as a fixture or jig or if it was going to be used as a production part.  Now it’s different.  If someone is doing that research, as I recommend, also research what is your end solution.  You need to know if it will meet the requirements of your industry or what standards do you need to know about.  Do research on the standards too, make sure you understand all of it.  Reach out to people who are experts.  Reach out to other people in the industry.  Find out what they have done, find out what their mistakes were, what their succusses were, and leverage those the best you can.  I was able to reach out to people very early in this industry and they were always a phone call away and I would leverage them as much as I possibly could.  The good news is we are still friends to this day, and we still talk about new ways to leverage this technology. 

What has your experience been with the SME event, RAPID + TCT?

I like the SME event because it is a different event than AMUG, for example.  AMUG is users of the technology, experienced users, and that networking opportunity, SME is more of a broader scope of not only attendees but experiences you are going to get there.  Particularly people that are new and want to learn about the technology before making that big investment, that’s a great event to visit, and ask those questions.  You’ve got such a range of exhibitors and attendees, you can meet and great a ton of people really quickly and get some of those initial questions answered from real experts, which is great. 

What are some of the things you are looking forward to this year at RAPID + TCT?

I’m looking forward to again just making another connection face to face with folks and make some direct conversations with some of the suppliers and OEMs that I’m familiar with.  I’ve been in this industry long enough that a lot of this is rekindling friendships, spending time with people I haven’t seen, but also being with my own team a bit more.  Because of COVID and working remotely like a lot of the other folks here that are listening in, we’ve been working from home.  We haven’t been in the office, we haven’t been out on the road, so there is a lot of people that I haven’t met, including some of my own team members that I haven’t had a chance to spend much time with yet.  I am looking forward to all of those things but it’s really going to be the face-to-face activities, as well as some of the presentations and some of the information I am going to be able to gleam from it as well. 

I think we going to get that as we start attending these events, whether we have been back to our offices or not yet.  It’s just another team-building opportunity.  I do recommend that at any of these events, don’t stick with your team all the time.  Spread out, go interact with other folks, and grab lunch with somebody you don’t know.  It’s an AMUG tradition but I do the same thing at all events I go to.  I have lunch with somebody I haven’t met before, see somebody sitting at the table and sit with them and have your little packaged box lunch and hang out together for a while.  You are only going to make friends. 

What is the impact of AM to the broad manufacturing industry as a whole?

Look at the way it has become distributed.  A few years ago, in conversation talking to some folks, and they are like, “Who’s using additive?”.  Ask around, I will assure that pretty much every manufacturer either has it or is looking to adopt it.  It may not be their key manufacturing process, if it’s an injection molding shop, they may not get additive to replace it, because it shouldn’t replace it, but they are going to get to support their customers, whether it be prototyping, or tooling and fixturing, a lot of different impacts.  I think what it has become is one more tool in the toolbox or that possibility of expanding your customer base by providing something new and different, is extraordinary.  I think it’s covering across all manufacturing processes.  Just when you think, one thing that it’s never going to affect is construction, guess what?  It’s affected construction in a significant way!  My opinion is that it is everywhere and it’s working hard to get even more places and it’s something you should embrace.  Even if it’s challenging and maybe even a little scary, step up and embrace it anyway.  It will make your business better in the long run. 

How has the transition been moving to ASTM?

It’s been a great transition.  I’m really excited to learn more about standards, as much as I thought I knew, I did not know as much as I thought and I probably didn’t know as much as a lot of people, but I’m learning a great deal.  The team is exciting and interesting and really talented.  We have a lot of fun, even though we haven’t been in the same office too often yet, we’re certainly having fun and as we are coming out of COVID and this industry is really starting to kick again and move forward we’re poised to be able to support that.  Not only with some of the services we provide but also our upcoming event in November, ICAM.  Talk about a very interesting event.  It’s much more scientific and research focused than others, but it is growing exponentially, and I am looking forward to going to that and seeing all the neat stuff coming up and coming into the future for additive.  

What is the general theme for that specific event?

It’s actually a pretty broadly based event.  It’s a get together with 25 or 26 symposiums of various subjects.  We mention 3D printing construction and polymers, even cyber security.  There is a symposium on that.  There’s also some in the more general additive things, binder jetting, there is a symposium on that.  It brings in the folks that are on a leading edge of where we are at in those various topics.  When you can come into learning what is the newest of the new when it comes to some of the fill polymers that they are working on now or in the leaps forward in cyber security awareness that’s coming up, and some of the tools and processes in place for that.  I could go on for a couple of hours talking about it with every symposium.  I do recommend one, you can go on the ICAM website or the website and reach out to me too and I can direct you to all that.  It’s a very interesting event.  This will be the first face to face one that I will be able to attend and I’m very excited about it because I know it will be awesome.  It’s going to be November 1st through the 5th.  I think it’s interesting too with a lot of events coming back up, like ICAM for example, has a virtual option.  I think we are going to see more of that opportunity because a lot of times when you have an event for, not so much ICAM, which is a full week, but for some other events that are shorter, to come across the planet for a short event is challenging.  With some of the video tools and things we have now a days some of those events having that virtual option is still a real good choice.  I think that is something we’re going to see remaining in these events going forward.  Not every event is going to have virtual options and that’s important to understand but we’re seeing those tools coming into play with a lot of events and it keeps it open to some folks that cannot travel yet or maybe another year away from when they can travel. 

What role do you see SME playing in the Additive Manufacturing space?

SME has been in additive for a long time.  Since the early days, and I think they have always been supportive of what’s going on externally, whether it’s trainings that are offered by organizations or events.  Certainly, SME has its own event with RAPID + TCT, which has been a strong event for many years and will certainly play a role in that.  SME’s training arm, Tooling U-SME, has been around and has offered some trainings in there too.  I think that is a good baseline and then you got all their organizations, including ASTM, which provides more extensive trainings that would stack well on top of those.  I think SME has always been a strong proponent of additive with their various subcommittees.  I think we are going to see SME still being a strong force for many years to come in additive.

What do you think defines the AM community?

I think if one word, based on my own experience, and I am only going to base this on my own experience obviously, it’s always been very inclusive.  Whether you are at an event or in meetings and you are talking with senior management for an OEM or manufacturer and you have a question or an opinion on additive, people want to listen, they want to hear about it and they want to share theirs, and there is a lot of information people share.  There’s always that balance, and I came across this at Reebok, when I was first in the industry using additive, when we interact with a competitor.  I can’t talk about what we are doing, well most people are pretty inclusive, they’ll talk about the process, they’ll talk about techniques they’ve learned, or ways to shorten times and make better parts, without giving away what their next product that’s coming out in their next product launch.  There’s that balance of being super inclusive and also keeping their IP under control.  I think in additive over any other industry I’ve been involved in they’ve been on the inclusive side of things more than anything else.  People are willing to share things, and it’s not always the good things.  They are willing to share the bad things too.  This system really caused me some problems and I needed to make these changes to make it work for me.  Let me give you a list of parts to buy so you can get it to work for you.  That is a level of inclusiveness that I have not experienced anywhere else. 

What I’ve see a lot too is, I started in it before people really talked about production.  Now that is the main point of conversation is, how can we use this for production?  That sense of inclusiveness and sharing has only become more important.  Material choices are still pretty limited, what available for production and can work in a production environment and meet requirements for a product.  Whether it’s aerospace or consumer products, electronics, or whatever, there is still a limited space there.  Understanding that is still a mystery to a lot of people and knowing who to reach out to and how to get that information to help you move production faster.  What’s your quality service system?  What kind of system do you have for quality right now?  We haven’t really thought about that yet.  You need to start thinking about it.  You need to start getting information.  Reaching out to experts in that area to build out your quality system.  It’s becoming really important too for operators.  Qualified operators need to be put in place and how to you validate what a qualified operator is and how do you know that it’s going to meet your requirements next year and the year after once you’ve moved into production.  It’s evolving from the material side, from a process side, and also from an execution side. 

What is your advice for attracting younger generations/new workforce into AM?

I think we have got to look at a broader scope.  Researchers and material development folks and process creators, those are awesome people.  We are always going to have a need for that.  When it comes to engineers and PhD.’s to get things up and going, we definitely need that.  We need more programs at university level for that.  We also need operators.  We need people to get the job done.  To work with these cool technologies and really interesting pieces of equipment and actually make parts.  That by itself is another level and that doesn’t include the quality side.  What seemed like a narrow scope of how to get into additive, you can only do these two or three things, the opportunities have expanded exponentially.  There’s a lot of new ways to get involved in additive and support the process without getting a PhD at a university in additive manufacturing.  You can have a real influence on this from all aspects of the process. 

How do you see AM evolving in the next few years?

It’s evolving and the next generation is evolving with it.  What we see and think of additive today versus what I saw 20 years ago is much different.  I think 10 or 20 years in the future it will look very different again.  Look at the next generation, this whole technology is going to be a little bit different than it is now and be more accepted, maybe more advanced, certainly more advanced, and the choices and the way it’s going to be used is going to be much different than it was in the past. 

I think it is going to evolve in the direction of production.  Rapid prototyping and making those first samples are never going to go away.  That hasn’t gone away in traditional manufacturing.  When you get into additive moving toward production, we keep seeing articles, and it isn’t just jet engines parts or even medical implants, it’s all across the board.  Where short-run products, we see headlines about our supply chain problems.  Additive is going to have a huge influence on all of that.  I think what we are going to see is more industry embracing it.  We’re going to see more products that can be supplemented at production possibly with additive.  Maybe not replacing it but certainly supplementing it.  Supporting the supply chain in new ways.  I think it’s all going to be about getting people aware and introduced to all the aspects of additive, whether it’s feedstock and machine operations through quality and even in design.  There’s a long way to go for us to learn more and just for us to make it a part of normal conversation versus a surprise and something new and whizzbang, it’s just going to be part of the manufacturing landscape.

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