Robert Acton, Global Director of Strategic Partnerships at Carpenter Additive, sits down with Jeph Ruppert, Director of the Applications Innovation Group at 3D Systems, a global AM solutions company. Tune in as we delve into Jeph's additive journey which started with him wanting to do something cool and innovative, and led to the unique additive solutions that he works on today.
You can read the transcript or listen to the full episode below.
Hi everyone. And welcome back to PowderHeads, a Carpenter Additive podcast. With each episode of PowderHeads, we bring you the minds of industry experts and delve into topics that are defining how additive manufacturing is making an impact on our world. In today's episode, Rob Acton, Global Director of Strategic Partnerships at Carpenter Additive talks with Jeph Ruppert, Director of the Application Innovation Group at 3D Systems, a global AM solutions company. Like I've said before. I think the best PowderHeads discussions are the ones where the people know one another, and here, Rob and Jeph have a history. Jeph has been involved in additive manufacturing for almost 11 years, which certainly wins him old powder head status. Thanks for listening and enjoy the conversation.
Rob Acton (00:57):
Hi, this is Rob Acton with Carpenter Additive. I am the Global Director for Strategic Partnerships, which is a fancy way of saying that I work with some of our key partners with the goal of advancing the additive manufacturing industry today, we're joined by Jeph Ruppert. Um, Jeph we've known each other for a while. We have a couple of different programs that we're working on together and, and hopefully, um, some exciting stuff to announce upcoming, but, uh, I just want to thank you for, for taking the time to join us today.
Jeph Ruppert (01:27):
Absolutely. Thanks for having me.
Rob Acton (01:31):
Yeah. So Jeph, uh, this might be a good chance for you to talk a little bit about your background in am and, uh, and then your role with that with the 3d systems.
Jeph Ruppert (01:40):
Absolutely. So I've been doing am, uh, for almost 11 years now. Um, I graduated college in December of Oh eight, which was a fantastic time to, um, leave the university, um, second, only to maybe a springtime of 2020. Um, so, so at that time I took a position wherever I could, and I ended up in, um, quality engineering role, um, with a large pharmaceutical company. Um, and at the time, uh, that they ended up getting acquired. So I, I found a job with a really small shop, um, here in golden Colorado called medical modeling. Um, it was run by a gentleman named Andy Christiansen. Um, and at the time there were maybe 20 employees, um, and they were hiring a quality engineer. Um, so I applied, I didn't know really anything about additive at the time, but I knew that I wanted to be in, um, doing something cool, uh, something cool and something innovative.
Jeph Ruppert (02:34):
And the core competency of, uh, medical modeling at the time was taking CT data and running it through a CT or MRI data DICOM images, um, and running them through a digital workflow, um, to create either anatomical models or surgical guides, basically clinical tools to help, um, improve clinical outcomes. Um, so I was hired on one of the early employees maybe or 20 of us at the time. Um, and I grew into that role, um, with sort of varying level varying, um, positions within the quality organization, but very quickly moved away from the polymer stuff and started working in metal. Um, Andy was really, Andy continues to be super innovative, um, and really very a 4runner of this technology. But we had early on back in 2006, um, received two of the first commercially available our cam systems. The other two actually went to Cal Ram at the time, which is now part of carpenter, additive, coincidentally.
Jeph Ruppert (03:35):
Um, so we, we go way back with our early double digit serial number, um, as 12. Um, so we worked a lot with those EBM systems at the time working on, um, implants, um, and actually did the first five, 10 K um, validation for a, uh, additively manufactured implant back in 2010 or 11, um, and worked in the quality organization for about nine years. Um, it took me all over the world. Um, I lived in Belgium for a little while, um, running the, the quality operations there, um, at our layer wise facility. Um, in 2014, of course we were acquired medical modeling, symbiotics and layer wiser, whereas acquired by 3d systems. It was spun out into our healthcare org and, um, basically needed to do some import export of best practices around validation operations overall. Um, so I was lucky enough to do a two year ex-pat thing in Belgium, um, where a lot of our machine engineering was done.
Jeph Ruppert (04:37):
Um, and then I came back, um, in 2019, um, with a new role. Um, I was asked to take on what we were calling the customer innovation center at the time, and now we're calling ourselves application innovation group. Um, but I was asked to lead that org, um, and grow it into, uh, something different than what it initially was. Um, so that's kind of how I've gotten to be here. You know, it's, it's a small world. Um, so obviously, you know, some of the old carpenter Kalorama things go way back, but, uh, that's how I, that's how I got here and, um, have been doing am ever since.
Rob Acton (05:13):
No, I think the, you know, I, we should touch on, you know, you've seen the, uh, a couple of different, uh, hype cycles with additive manufacturers since you started in 2008, but before we get into that, I just, I think, uh, it would be good to explain the goal of the applications innovation group within 3d systems. I think it's, um, it's, it's, it's a unique organization, uh, when you look at the additive landscape.
Jeph Ruppert (05:39):
Sure. Um, so with, um, with the reorg at 3d systems, um, in, in the summertime of last year, we really took this, took a step back and focus on what, what do we, what do we want to do? What, what should we be doing? Um, and where, where can we win? And that, that really focused on, um, uh, hyper-focus on critical applications and delivering solutions for those applications within those domains. Now, as part of that, um, because we have, you know, this very centralized application focus, we need a team, a global team to deliver those solutions. And what we've created now is a global organization called this application innovation group, where we really focus on delivering customer solutions with a mix of technology, material, software, and service. Um, so we, we really bring together those tool sets to offer a unique solution to customers. And I think what's, what's different about us as compared to some of the other sort of consulting and applications groups out there, um, is that we're not only, um, consulting, we're also key users of our technology in a production environment.
Jeph Ruppert (06:51):
So what that means is that we're able to offer a unique insight in how to scale up and industrialize am. Um, you know, at, uh, we think we're big, but we're actually, I mean, if we think about like the global manufacturing market, it's tiny, but we're running, um, 80 metal printers at any given time at our two certified locations and doing a lot of real life manufacturing and for critical applications like in aerospace or in medical device. Um, so it gives our team as we develop new applications, as we develop new processes. And as we scale those up, it gives us a unique ability to understand what those production needs are and offer that solution to our customers, and essentially try to limit the mistakes that we've made over the last 10 years and pass that knowledge to our customer. Um, ultimately I think the thing with the am, um, and as, as we've gone through multiple hype cycles, we'll talk more about that, but, um, how do we take risk out of it? Um, and ultimately I think that's really what it comes down to is we, we work towards that solution and our biggest asset is that we can, we can take risk out of the process, um, of scaling it up through that. Um, solution-based, uh, value proposition.
Rob Acton (08:11):
Yeah. I mean, I think you're, you're probably selling yourself a little bit short as far as, uh, how big, uh, you fit into manufacturing. I mean, it, it may be, if we look at just additive manufacturing, there, there are only a handful of companies that have the number of, and scope of machines that 3d systems does. And, and, and, and your group specifically. So, uh, I, I do think, um, we have a shared vision as far as, um, your carpenter 3d systems and how do we work together and how do we work with our, our partners, customers, and suppliers, and advancing additive manufacturing. And I think a lot of the stuff that your team's doing there at the AIG are, are, uh, are helping to drive the industry as a, what, what do you think, or what would you like to see more of, you know, you know, uh, collaboration, uh, materials, applications, uh, what do you think's missing to help us continue to drive towards serial production?
Jeph Ruppert (09:11):
I think there's a few things, um, you know, reliability ends up being first and foremost as, as the technology sort of, you know, came out of frankly sort of academic world. Um, the, the idea of reliability has, you know, not, not it's relied on duct tape and zip ties for a long, long time. Um, and we've been victim to that as well, even at 3d systems. Um, so I think the ability to create a reliable process and have a reliable system, um, with configuration management, the whole, the whole gamut, um, is something that's currently missing. You know, it seems like it's kind of an arms race right now to see you can cram more lasers in a printer, um, and create a bigger part, um, you know, have the latest, greatest, um, with big parts. But what I hear more and more is that that's good.
Jeph Ruppert (10:05):
It needs to, you know, that's pushing the envelope in a good direction, um, because that opens up new applications, but ultimately what we need is reliability. And, you know, some of this starts with, um, with feedstock, right, with material. And I think this is where the work that carpenter carpenter's doing, um, is super interesting, both on the material development side, as well as the it's called powder. I, right. This is the, um, the, the powder, the Institute powder monitoring, um, that that's come out of carpenter. This is super interesting because one of the main questions we have with the process is what effect does, um, does powder recycling and reusability? Where does, how do you characterize that and how does this manage over time? And a lot of those questions go away if you're characterizing your powder right there, right then on demand. Um, so, you know, from a feedstock perspective, that's super interesting.
Jeph Ruppert (10:59):
There's tons to do on materials. I mean, you look at the alloys that we're working with, the highest running allies in the industry right now, they're for lack of a better term, they're kind of crappy, uh, casting materials for a large part that we use back in the sixties. Um, and as the design for additive continues to grow, um, I think there, there's going to be a lot of material innovation happening as well, um, where we really can throw out a lot of the preconceived notions that we've had as an industry about what's possible. Um, and look to materials that have historically been, you know, uncomfortable or very difficult to weld things like this. And they manage that through the various technology innovations. Um, and then I think last but not least is how do you take risk out of the process, um, and, and produce the objective evidence of that.
Jeph Ruppert (11:51):
And I think that's where the ideas in process quality control and process quality monitoring becomes super interesting. Can you, can you assure that, you know, we, we've already said that the feedstocks gonna, um, is capable of producing what we need. We know that the machines capable of producing what we need, how do we actually produce that evidence and that knowledge base in a, in a practical manner so that as we are producing a very high value part, um, knowing that it's going to be right first time and working that all into one, um, one cohesive package, I'd like to see the industry move away from this idea of sort of a very didactic process, um, parameter, where you have just one key set of parameters and you shall not move it. We know the physics of apart from zero to 300 millimeters is going to change, um, and similar to like the welding industry, right, where we have sort of a welding schedule and we can make adjustments within that. Um, I'd like to see the industry move towards this idea of having a process window that we can operate within. Um, and I'll say the dirty word, but make input in process changes, um, in, in, in profits feedback to, um, the processes be able to produce, you know, high, high end critical application with really complex optimized designs. Right. First time.
Rob Acton (13:17):
Yeah. I mean, so what, I mean, what's the biggest challenge of getting there? Is it, is it, um, comfort of the, uh, the, the printers? Is it, uh, you know, uh, confidence from the regulatory agencies? Is it lack of data? Is it just, you know, more iterations? What's the biggest challenge you think to getting, getting there?
Jeph Ruppert (13:37):
Loaded question? Um, certainly I think, um, the, the industry and the regulators as a whole, um, there's, there's although and been widely adopted, um, there's still this kind of black box of doom mentality, um, where, you know, there's just a lack of understanding of the process. Um, and that leads to some silliness, um, with testing requirements and things like this, but I think it's incumbent upon the, um, the industry to, um, better characterize and produce more data there. So I think there's some data missing and then work really closely with the regulators, um, to build process, build regulation, build guides, standards, et cetera, um, for am specifically that can enable this. Um, you know, I think some of the barrier to entry, if we think about medical device specifically, I mean, one of the things that I kind of demoed is lack of material innovation, um, and it rotted something that we've talked about a ton over the last couple of years.
Jeph Ruppert (14:48):
Um, but we see, you know, like private space and that there's of innovation in the materials market where we're producing bespoke materials that really are fitting a certain need. And there's a hesitancy on the medical side, um, because of the just massive barrier to entry with biocompatibility and things like that. Um, so I think we, we kind of, as an industry need to take that step back, understand what problem we can solve and how we can solve it. Um, and some of it starts with the, um, machine manufacturers like ourselves, you know, I think reliability and consistency and configuration is absolutely key. Um, I don't think we're perfect at it. Um, if I'm being completely honest, I think we're good and moving in the right direction, but there's a long ways to go. Um, but it's something that you see over and over. Um, and then really, you know, taking a critical look at what's out there and what problems can be solved, um, overall and then, and the attacking them. But I think with, uh, with a good foundation of that, that idea of what the regulatory landscape looks like, the idea of having a very solid basis for what the technology is, um, will allow for that. And hopefully less than that burden, not less than the burden, but, um, uh, streamline that effort to produce novel materials for really, really hard to solve problems. Um, and then the technology becomes more reliable. Everything gets bigger, stronger, faster. Um, we can get there with a lot of data.
Rob Acton (16:21):
I mean, data is key, right? And, and, and not only just capturing cause, cause we're capturing so much information now, but once we have the information, what do we do with it? And then once we, once we know we're doing it, you know, where's the value. Yep. Yeah. So you mean, you talked about carpenter's a powder eye, which is part of our, our Powderlife powder benefit solution, which is what we're we are, are trying to do is, is, is gather all this information, make sure we're using your, you know, we're making data driven decisions. Um, you know, now you, we talked a little about the regulatory agencies. I know you've, you've been responsible for setting up a couple of 1700 to five, uh, labs, correct? That, that you talked about the five, 10 K qualification, sorry, 30, yeah, 30, 45. Excuse me. And then, uh, um, in your experience, do you think the FDA has been proactive in working with am or do you think that, uh, um, it's been a bit of a hurdle that's that's that we need to overcome?
Jeph Ruppert (17:28):
I got to give the agency credit, actually. I think they've, they've done a really nice job. I mean, back in 2011, um, when we did the first validation five, 10 K or 2010, whenever it was, I mean, I don't think the agency could spell EDM. So really there wasn't a lot of questions around what the technology was, but we had the data to it. Um, but as more and more came through, um, the agency has been super proactive. Um, in 2017 they released the, um, guidance document for considerations in am, um, and you know, not to their fault, but it is painting in fairly large swats because they're looking at both polymer, um, different metal, you know, laser powder, bed E powder, evening powder bed, um, binder over powder, all these different technologies. Um, but overall I think they've done a good job, um, as it trickles down and more devices come through, I think there, there's still some challenges around understanding what that process is, um, understanding, um, the capability of the process and, um, some of that comes with data. Um, but overall I think they have been doing a really nice job being proactive, um, Matthew to prima, uh, specifically, you know, within the regulatory science office, he's led a really phenomenal team there. Um, he's super active in AFTM ISO SME, um, and really, you know, goes out of his way to work very closely with industry, um, to solve these problems and make sure that the regulation is, um, assuring safety and efficacy for the general population while also not stifling, um, innovation for, um, improved clinical outcomes.
Rob Acton (19:12):
And I think that's critical, right? I mean, there's a balancing act there. And, uh, I, I would agree. I, I, from my experience in the few instances where I've had worked with the FDA, I have found that they have been proactive with, with, uh, you know, it relatively new technology. At least when we talk about, uh, you know, manufacturing as a whole and how long we've been, been talking about adding manufacturing production for, for medical. So I do think I would agree with you that it is encouraging.
Jeph Ruppert (19:38):
It is. I mean, and you've even seen a shift where, you know, historically a lot of med devices were released in Europe, uh, first for instance, because that regulatory pathway was simpler. Um, but for am, we're actually seeing most devices, um, submitted and released in the U S first because that path is a lot more clear. You don't have this disparate, um, regulatory environment where it really depends on who your notified body is and who your technical reviewer is. Um, you got a fairly good framework about what that path to market can look like in the U S
Rob Acton (20:12):
Yeah. So going back to the hype curve, I think, uh, you know, when I started in am, there was a lot of questions about whether you could print a part and then it became whether you could print a part consistently. I think the conversation now is, is yes, we know we can print the parts, the geometry, that mechanical properties we need. We know we can do it again and again. Uh, but, but you know, where do we go as far as design for additive manufacturing, right? Are we getting all the benefits that we can out of additive manufacturing? Do you see a shift there? I mean, you talked about reliability, talked about consistency. I mean, in the 13 years or so, you've been in additive manufacturing. Have you seen that shift?
Jeph Ruppert (20:54):
It's getting there. It's still not. I mean, at least once a day I get a sheet metal or a casting part, um, that somebody wants to look at and we have to start that discussion, but more and more, we do see optimized designs, um, for additive. Um, and it's, it's really encouraging to see, you know, hard problems being tackled. Um, you know, whether it's in semi con, whether it's in, um, medical device, whether it's an aerospace, um, it's really cool to see the tip of the spear, um, with regards to this stuff, um, and where design for additive can be used to really optimize. Um, and that that's there, you know, but I don't know if that's where the entire industry grows. Is that just sort of tippy tip of the spear, um, where you have these highly optimized structures that could be, you know, where the performance benefit outweighs the cost increase, for instance, um, I think there's, there's also a big market and, you know, not fully optimized structures, but highly optimized, um, but it can be built, um, in a way that removes costs, uh, as well.
Jeph Ruppert (22:04):
So part consolidation, things like this, and, you know, both, you know, carpenter and 3d assets, um, have a role to play here. And I think, you know, the ability to run wider range of particle size distributions, um, or even coarser material, for instance, like, uh, amend material in a laser powder bed fusion, um, printer where, you know, maybe morphology is not as important or something like this, that can be really interesting as well and improving, um, the throughput because it's still the largest, um, cost drivers, typically not the material costs, it's actually the time in the machine. So if we can take cost out of the machine, um, take costs out of the material and still produce a highly optimized structure, um, that really widened that, um, I still think is an industry where we're not at a place where we're, we should be thinking about trying to carve out our own little pieces of the pie so much as, um, growing the whole pie, um, and growing the whole market. And I think part of that is, is cost out. It's becoming more and more important.
Rob Acton (23:09):
Yeah, I like that. That's a really subtle but significant difference Yukon out there as far as between fully optimized and highly optimized. I think there's, there's some significant nuance there that, um, that we, that we need to look at.
Jeph Ruppert (23:25):
It's a fun, fun dance, because it's different for every shape, but, um, yeah, it's, it's, and that's why I love doing what I do so much is cause we have, you know, we're always there trying to solve these problems and it's every customer's, every application's problem is different. Um, and, and sometimes, you know, you need to make a concession on the design side and ultimately the performance side for the DFM, um, aspects and to be able to produce a less expensive part. Um, and then there's others where it's just no issue and you go to the bottom of the ocean. Um, but it's, it's, it's nice to see that the whole, whole spectrum and, and see what's going on out there.
Rob Acton (24:10):
I agree. And I, and I, and I do it constantly, uh, with the same cliche lines about the, not, not increasing the size of our pilot, but increasing, not increasing the slice of our pie, but increasing the size of the overall pie and, uh, or, or the, you know, the, uh, the cliche or on a rising tides lift all ships. But I think that am is unique in that you do see that you do see significantly more collaboration than you would with more conventional forms of manufacturing. Yeah. That's why, yeah, exactly. There's, there's enough work that needs to be done to get to the point where we can be competing each other. And right now I see our competition as casting and, uh, and raw metals. No, Jeff, I, I, um, I really appreciate your time. I'd like to give you a chance here to maybe brag a little bit, um, you know, talk about, uh, some of the successes that you guys have had there at 3d systems or, or even just to talk about, um, if there's anything exciting upcoming that you'd like to share.
Jeph Ruppert (25:17):
Oh man. Um, so I think, um, I, I've been really, really happy with where our reorg is going and I'm excited to see how, um, the, the various parts of our business can grow. Um, now that we've removed a lot of internal walls, um, our med device can business continues to just, you know, be a, an absolute, um, leader within the industry. Um, we're well over 105, 10 Ks, um, and I at least one and a half million implants printed on our systems internally, um, to date. Um, and when we think about the global market of implants printed on our printers, um, it's gotta be in the many millions at this point. Um, so that's really encouraging to see from the time when it was just two of us running a knee beam, uh, starting the machine, removing the PA you know, doing, doing the whole soup to nuts thing.
Jeph Ruppert (26:13):
Um, so, you know, that's really encouraging. Um, I I'd like what's going on with Chuck's group, um, Chuck Hall's group, he's got some really, really cool stuff going on with, um, our, our land printer, um, which is, uh, the, it's a, it's an army, it's an army project, but now it's actually being brought in from that, but it's a one meter by one meter by, um, 600 millimeter, uh, build platform. And it's been, we now have two of operating. Um, so that's been super cool to see where that's going and what new applications having that, that build size with the same reliability and the innovations that have come with it within to do monitoring as well as this sort of smart deposition, uh, where we're only selectively depositing powder, where we need it. Um, and then filling with the rest, um, super exciting there. Um, right now, um, we are also seeing some big time growth in our factory 500 system. Um, it's, uh, built on the same sort of legacy architecture is our three 53 20, um, where we, you know, we build it on this, um, this, uh, vacuum architecture. Um, so being able to offer that technology on a larger scale is super exciting. And as that continues to be adopted, it will be, um, fun to see what kind of new applications we can toss on that big guy. Um, yeah, I mean, that, that's kind of my, I don't know how braggy that was, but, um, very exciting me right now.
Rob Acton (27:48):
Yeah. Now I think we probably, if we should come up with some, uh, numbers behind the percentage of, uh, medical parts printed on your platforms, I think, uh, you know, certainly 3d systems probably has a lion share there, but yeah, I would just like to say
Jeph Ruppert (28:03):
For sure, I don't know exactly what it is. It was easier to tell back in the day when there was like five, five, 10 Ks, and we had five of them. Um, but now it's a little harder to, harder to see the whole whole picture.
Rob Acton (28:16):
And it goes back to our conversation about increasing the size of the pie. So that's probably a, a net benefit for all of us.
Jeph Ruppert (28:23):
Rob Acton (28:25):
Now, Jeph, I appreciate the, uh, the time you spent with us today, I, uh, I've been really impressed with the job that you and your team have done, uh, weathering the, uh, the challenging last 14 months and certainly looking forward to, uh, to what you guys have in store for us over the upcoming, uh, several months.
Jeph Ruppert (28:44):
Absolutely. Well, thanks for thinking to me, and it's always, always a pleasure, Rob,
Rob Acton (28:52):
Appreciate it. Alrighty,
Thanks to Jeph Ruppert for sitting in on a PowderHeads episode with us. His own additive journey began with him wanting to do something cool and innovative. It's nice when plans work out, if you have questions or comments about what we discussed in this podcast PowderHeads, send them to firstname.lastname@example.org or visit our podcast page at www.carpenteradditive.com/powderheads. We continue to build an archive of all of our interviews there as well as additional material that provides insight and perspective on modern day additive manufacturing. PowderHeads is managed by Carpenter Additive and its parent company Carpenter Technology, a global leader in specialty alloys for over 130 years. Our goal is to help solve their most challenging material process problems. Learn more at CarpenterTechnology.com. Thanks again for listening and keep building!
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