Oerlikon Group (SIX: OERL) is a leading global technology firm with more than 100 years of industry experience. The Swiss company has a global footprint of 13,500 employees at more than 170 locations in 37 countries.
Oerlikon views additive manufacturing (AM) – a process where parts are built from scratch, layer by layer with raw materials such as metal powders – as a growth area. It aims to become the leading integrated provider of materials, design expertise and production service for advanced metal AM components.
The goal is to provide its customers with reliability, productivity and performance, Head of Additive Manufacturing Service Expansion Jeffrey Schultz says. “We’ve been producing metal parts for decades,” he says. “Unlike most players in the AM market who are either component manufacturers building AM parts or metal powder suppliers, we do both.”
From atomization to assembly, Oerlikon delivers value to its AM customers by reducing time to market, shortening supply chains and boosting the performance of components. “We have a dedicated R&D team that supports the development of any new or existing additive manufacturing-specific alloys,” Schultz explains.
Oerlikon has expanded its global AM business with a state-of-the-art R&D and production facility in Charlotte, N.C., which will be “fully operational” in 2018. However, it already started its AM business in the city at an interim facilityoerlikon this year. Oerlikon also acquired AM production company Citim, in Germany, and has additional AM facilities in Atlanta.
Technology has impacted its operations heavily, Schultz notes, adding that it is “the backbone” of AM. “Everything is digital,” he explains. “It’s more or less a paperless operation from design through to a finished part.”
This is why not only recruiting the right employees, but also training are key in Oerlikon’s operations. “Training is a big component of making everyone effective on the floor,” he says. “We have the latest, cutting-edge technology. So for us, it’s critical to have a workforce that understands how to effectively work day-to-day in a digital environment.”
The more efficient and seamless an operation is, the more important quality control and attention to detail become, according to Schultz. “It takes a high level of training and sophistication on the employee’s part to ensure that what’s moving through the shop floor has been properly vetted,” he says. “When working in an integrated, digital supply chain, our workforce has to understand the process flow to ensure that no errors are made.”
With end-to-end AM manufacturing at its facilities, another goal for the company is to minimize inventory. Currently, it keeps “very little” inventory of parts in stock, with the exception of raw materials and powders. “We produce the inventory also, so we are able to keep our inventory to a minimum,” Schultz explains. “As soon as a part is manufactured, we try to get it to the customer as quickly as we can. We need those materials on hand to achieve that.”
Additionally, it’s Oerlikon’s “deep knowledge” of the AM market and value chain that not only has contributed to its success, but also differentiates it from the competition. “We have a fairly seasoned managerial team,” Schultz says. “They not only have experience in additive manufacturing, but have a broad background of manufacturing technology experience.”
Almost all of its managers have a background in industrial manufacturing, Schultz adds. “For us, it’s about applying industrial-scale manufacturing to additive manufacturing,” he says. “Additive manufacturing is really an enabling technology for us. So we want to leverage it to deliver advanced components that help our customers improve the performance of their parts and systems.”
As the largest independent AM components producer globally, Schultz notes that it’s also Oerlikon’s duty to work with machine manufactures. “We have to help them drive technology forward, so we can be more productive and make better parts for our customers at a fair price,” he explains.
Schultz has been with Oerlikon for two years, and says he could not be more proud of his team and company. “In the past two years we’ve gone from being a relatively new entrant in AM, to being recognized as a global leader in the space,” he says. “It’s been exciting to bring the teams we have in Europe and the U.S. together. We’ve built one of the strongest additive manufacturing teams in the world.”