Join Will Herbert as he sits down with Peter Adams from Burloak Technologies, a global leader in world-class design for additive, additive manufacturing, and advanced manufacturing services. In this episode, we talk about why we need better different methods of additive manufacturing, how competition forces improvement, and the evolution of additive technology over the past 20 years.
Listen to the full episode or read the transcript 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 in into topics that are to how additive manufacturing is making an impact on our world. In our newest episode, Will Herbert, Carpenter Technology’s, Director of Technology and R&D sits down with Peter Adams, Co-Founder and Chief Innovation Officer at Ontario based Burloak technologies. Burloak is Canada's leading supplier of highly engineered AF components and provides engineering and designs for additive manufacturing, materials, development, high precision CNC, machining post-processing, and metrology in a spirited discussion that ranges from the unusual company name and Canadian origins to the uniqueness of its position in the industry. It's a, an episode you don't want to miss. Thanks for listening to powder heads and enjoy the conversation.
William Herbert (01:07):
Peter, welcome to the podcast. And thanks for joining us. Uh, maybe let's start with the name. Burloak it's tell us a little bit about that. That's a, that's a strange name, uh, to some of our people listening first time.
Peter Adams (01:22):
Uh, well, oh, good, good morning. Will thanks for the invite. Um, yes. So the, the, the Burloak namer ironically is, uh, is the name of the, the road that's right at the corner of where we're located. So there's, there's no creating markets. If GE markets Ingen behind the, this, uh, it's actually a bit of a long story, but the, the summation of it is that when we first launched bur Oak, I for the first few weeks had a partner that lived in Oakville. Uh, and I lived in Burlington and the, the road that intersex, the two cities is called bur Oak drive. So we ended up with, uh, bur Oak as the name for the company.
William Herbert (02:10):
So you're based in Ontario. How did you get to Canada PE maybe let's go through your journey and additive and, and how we got to this point, uh, with you being, um, you know, starting this company and, and then getting acquired.
Peter Adams (02:26):
Yeah. So again, a, a strange story that would take far too long, but, uh, uh, essentially I, I came over in, uh, around about 90 end of 95, um, for work, uh, in, into an aerospace tooling, uh, company. Uh, didn't particularly enjoy the, the, the role that I'd came over to. I, I was supposed to be ahead for Australia, as I tell everybody at the same time and got lost and ended up in Canada. Um, but when I, when I got here, I fell in love with the country and decided to, to make it a permanent home. Uh, my wife, Jill, and who, you know, uh, did didn't know I going to make it a permanent home. She was coming for two years at the time. So, um,
William Herbert (03:25):
And you're going on? How many now?
Peter Adams (03:28):
Oh, we're now 25 years here. So, uh, I think we're, we're staying. Um, but yeah, I, I think my first, if was back in, uh, the, the mid nineties or early nineties, just before coming to, uh, to Canada and it was with SLA at the time, and we were using it to, uh, replicate, uh, some tooling that we were going to do gripping turbine blades for, for rolls Royce in the UK on a, on some, uh, systems we were building for them that I can't talk about. But, uh, the, you know, that, that was my first exposure to it. Uh, we ended up setting up, but lot technologies. And, uh, a couple of years later, one of our big American customers, uh, asked us to go and explore additive for them, uh, with a view that they wanted to manufacture some, some big components at the time, uh, in a rotating equipment environment.
Peter Adams (04:42):
And, uh, we spent, uh, a year or two looking at the technology, uh, concluded that it wasn't right for them. Uh, but Jim Glover, who, uh, again, you know, my, my former partner before we, we sold bill Oak, uh, and I concluded that it, it wasn't right for them, but we were now really intrigued at the progress of, uh, metal printing, uh, knew that it was in its really in its infancy, but could see the potential of, of where this could lead. So we went back and told them that it wasn't going to be right for them, but we'd decided we were going to put, uh, a few million of our own money in and, and see where it took us. Uh, so that's really where we, where we stepped in.
William Herbert (05:34):
So a huge amount has changed since you bought that first machine. Uh, there's a lot more people in the industry. There's a lot of, uh, public interest in it. And a lot of, uh, luckily a lot of end user interest in it as well. What, what do you think has changed over the last 12 months, obviously? Uh, we've had the pandemic, have you been dealing with that and have you seen an acceleration in some of your areas or is it, is it slowed down in others?
Peter Adams (06:02):
Yeah, so I, I think the, the market has shifted dramatically in that I, I think the, the hype behind, uh, am particularly in the metal sector, stick to what we, what we really, we focus on. Uh, the, the hype has died off. The reality is now, uh, very, very clear to everybody that it, it's not what people believed. It was even three, five years ago. Um, it's a, a much bigger undertaking. It's a very complex undertaking. And I, I think we're going to continue to see a, a fallout, unfortunately, of, of some of the, some of the players that didn't realize, you know, quite what this undertaking was going to cost, uh, financially to really play in this space. A and, and that didn't undertake the, the science, uh, behind it, because as, as you and I both know, this is, this is material science at is at the deepest level.
Peter Adams (07:16):
And it, if you're not prepared to commit the resources to, to do that work, uh, as the, the basis for everything you're going to do. And then if you're not going to finance the operations, to be able to scale out all of those downstream activities, you are not going to deliver a finished product. Uh, and I think what's, what's probably most evident is that our customers have, uh, have recognized now that they don't want to buy a digital part. The, the, you know, nobody wants to buy an additive part. They want the end use component. And as if it is the method of delivering it, but there's a whole downstream infrastructure that's needed from heat treatment, Hepping materials, testing, machining, microscopic deburring, and so on that yields, that finished component.
William Herbert (08:21):
Yeah. I, what I, Pete, I want to cover some of the rewards that at the end of that journey for the companies that stay the course and invest in this technology, um, let's, let's get back to that in a little bit, but maybe to touch on what you're talking about now. I mean, there are some really underappreciated areas that go into an additive component. One of those is machining it's, it's an area where you also provide services. I mean, talk to me a little bit about that and, and, you know, how does the interplay between the subtractive and the additive work?
Peter Adams (08:56):
Yeah, so, I mean, there there's a real interest in subject, and it, you know, if you think, why would an a, an am company invest in CNC machining when there's, you know, hundreds, if not thousands of machine shops out there that are all very, very capable, but you have to go back and look at the, the nature of an am part or a, a good part, you know, and I, I, we always tell our customers if, if you can make the part any other way, then you're probably better doing it. Um, so if, if you accept that somewhere within that value stream, a for whatever reason is deliver delivering a, a unique solution, be it design lead time, whatever the, the traditional method can't deliver, then you you're accepting that the nature of that part is fundamentally different to a, a traditional block of metal.
Peter Adams (09:58):
And, you know, at the extreme, you can look at topology optimized models. So when you think about machining, traditionally, we'd put a big bill of material in, in the machine. The machine shop would estimate the time to rough that, that block down, and then do all the, the finishing passes and all, all the good stuff that we all see at, uh, trade shows. And when we walk through plants and that's great, but when you think about it, they're actually charging the end user for throwing 90% of the chips straight in a, and that's where they make the money is in that roughing phase. Well, if you move to an additive model and now all of that chip removal has gone away and you're dealing with just the finishing operations, you know, we, we build parts that there's five, 10000th of machining is all that we're dealing with, but in order to achieve that machine in, we've gotta be able to orient, uh, a typology optimize model.
Peter Adams (11:11):
That could be the strangest locking thing you've seen. And we've gotta find where that is in 3d determine if we've got enough material in the right places to remove the five or 10000th, and then machine it very, very quickly. So our fraction of machining is now down to, to a few minutes, which means to completely review the way that we go about machining. Cause we can't be coming up with complex fixtures and lots of setup time that a machine shop, if they're going to spend 30 hours of roofing can afford to absorb a little bit of inefficiency. So I think fundamentally we, we arrived at the conclusion we needed that in house because the way we were going to machine was going to be very different
William Herbert (12:10):
Well, and I think it, it helps with your delivery and your lead times, if you can control that step, because there's not a lot of machine shops interested in doing a one off or a, even a five, 10 off set of parts,
Peter Adams (12:23):
William Herbert (12:25):
Pete with as with every technology, uh, that's, that's being adopted. Um, you've spoken a little bit about the companies who have had a bit of a shock, uh, as they've got into this and they've realized the depth of the investment required. So let's, let's talk a little bit about those rewards for the companies that are able to stay the course they've maybe got over that initial excitement, uh, the hump of excitement, and then they're in the they've wallowed in the despair of, uh, you know, this just being at cash drain. So what's, you know, what companies are emerging successfully from the other side of that?
Peter Adams (13:02):
I, I think, you know, there's, there's clearly, uh, you, you don't want me naming companies at this point. I'm, I'm not doing
William Herbert (13:11):
Advertis, keep them anonymous.
Peter Adams (13:13):
Yeah. I, I think there are a handful from, from our perception. I, I think there are a handful of names that continually pop up globally, uh, that have got the, the scalability, uh, you know, they've been able to, like in our case, uh, firstly part with, and then be, be procured by, um, or acquired by a, a, a large multinational multi-billion dollar company that can provide the scale. So there are, you know, a few companies that fit that bill, and there are another couple of companies that they, the names pop up because of the, their obsession with the science of it. And I, I think,
William Herbert (14:03):
But in terms of, um, sorry, Pete, in, in terms of end users though, and, and people who are actually getting a real return on investment from this, uh, for the end applications that you were talking about, what, what are the, and areas that you are really excited about?
Peter Adams (14:22):
Yeah, so obviously for us, uh, space has been a, a huge boom. Uh, you know, we, we focused on it very quickly, uh, on the basis that it was going to go to market faster than aviation was because of the regulatory issues around, uh, putting parts on aircraft. Um, so while we still see aviation as probably our biggest market near term space is currently occupying that, that position. And it's really because it's, while it's more challenging to meet the technical specs and, and prove that you can pop parts, there there's less regulation a market at actually getting parts into flight than on a, on an aircraft. So, you know, I think the, the space market is going to continue to be buy the, the aviation market, given all the disruption. And it kind of plays back to your comments on COVID the disruption in that sector of the supply chains is such that additive, if now brings or qualified additive now brings it its real flexibility to, to a disrupted market. So they, the customers of ours that have of stayed the course and continued to work the qualification channels with us and the adoption on early flight parts that have already been identified. They're now in a strong position to deal with that supply chain disruption by adopting more parts into additive.
William Herbert (16:15):
What about medical, Pete? Do you guys work with medical customers?
Peter Adams (16:21):
Yeah, so, so we've, uh, we've historically kind of played at the fringes of medical and we're, we're doing increasing amounts of it. So I, I won't say it's, it's not a focus. It, you know, it's becoming, uh, a more interesting area again, I, I think, you know, if you look at early adopters and early successes with, uh, with additive, if anything, where there's lots of regulation, lots of complexity matter that bill good opportunities. Uh, we chose initially to focus on the markets that we really understood at a deep level. And now that we've got those qualifications in place and we've got revenues coming in from those channels, we're now expanding our into medical and automotive, nuclear, industrial, and so on.
William Herbert (17:21):
Fantastic, I guess at a fundamental supply chain level, Pete, um, this, this comes down to a make versus buy decision for a lot of the end customers and they have a decision there. Do they invest in a whole bunch of, and a team and have to build that knowledge base or do they come work with a partner such as Burloak, um, who, who in, uh, other ways can accelerate the journey? So what, what do you see there as the trade off?
Peter Adams (17:49):
Um, I see the trade off as in, in a, in a world where disruption now seems to be the, the path of the course, uh, you know, whether it's geopolitical, uh, virus related or, or just, you know, general shifts in the market. Like you see in the automotive industry currently with electric vehicles and proof that anybody can build a car, almost it it's difficult for, uh, a prime or an OEM to make commitment to a major manufacturing installation on a technology that's still evolving. The, the, the, the, the flip side of that is there are very, very few companies such as bur Oak and a handful of others that have got this scalability needed to deliver a robust supply chain to those companies. So I, you know, I, I think it's going to be an interesting time in that regard. Um, you know, I, I can see the need for both, and I think we've, we've come up with a very unique, an interesting approach with our major core customers that addresses that and gives them the best, best of both worlds.
William Herbert (19:21):
And, and what about talent, Pete? You are based in Canada and there's some really fantastic universities there. Supply and engineering graduates and mean is, is being in one of those hotspots, um, you know, really important to people getting into this.
Peter Adams (19:38):
I, I would say, uh, yes. Uh, you know, if you look around the, uh, as you say, around the, the GTA where we are, there's some fantastic, uh, feeder resource for us. Um, they don't deliver everything we need, but they certainly deliver that core talent, uh, with a good baseline knowledge in the, in the various disciplines E equally, you know, the Northeast region of, of the us around Boston and so on, and then down into to California and around Texas, and that there, there are some hotspots and you look at it, and I think it's just natural that technology companies are going to gravitate towards that, um, and, and seek out those individuals. But it, it is, it's definitely a, a key factor.
William Herbert (20:36):
And is this, are you going to end up doing mostly local production for, for companies that are based nearby with this idea that additive is this decentralized type of technology, or are you servicing international clients as well?
Peter Adams (20:51):
Uh, we are very much servicing international and global clients. Uh, as I say, the, the uniqueness of bur Oaks position is really broad about by our parent company, Samuel, who, you know, is, uh, a, a major player in the metals industry and, you know, multi-billion dollar cooperation. So what, what that's enabled us to do is focus on having this core group in, in Canada that has a, a phenomenal, uh, facility here with EV just about every modality of additive, if available to us all of the downstream processes, so that we can build out very robust, scalable solutions for production. But then the intent is to scale these out, uh, using production facilities. So we're going to transfer that qualified IP into either our own or customer facilities, and then scale those out. So it can really scale out on a global basis without the need for that core talent, with we develop in a very repeatable and scalable process.
William Herbert (22:13):
Yeah. And, and that takes a lot of work and a long development time with the customers that you are you're partnering with or working with. I mean, uh, I guess, you know, talk us through one of those journeys because that's, that's an easy, uh, thing to bring in customers who are going to be working with you for a long period of time. I've heard, uh, an analogy of chasing butterflies, which is, uh, trying to find these, these little development projects, which have a high risk on them. And, and they're, they're more, uh, uh, opportunistic, you know, how do you really at identify the gold seams here and, and find the ones that are going to stick it out and, and, and really develop to a production setting.
Peter Adams (22:58):
Yeah, and I, I think, um, I don't, I don't think there's a, an easy way to answer that. I think you've known us long enough and you've, you've been around the team here enough times. We we're a strange bunch, you know, when, when the hype was at its highest and people were ringing the phones off the hook with, Hey, I've got a, a part I want to print. I, I think we were the only company around that was, uh, screening those customers to a degree that we turned away, 95% of the people that came through us because they couldn't explain what their business model was to us and why additive was important. Um, so, you know, we we've took a, a very different path, I think, uh, but I think it's a much harder path that we stuck with the science longer. And we took that more seriously, but we focused on applications.
Peter Adams (24:02):
And if you can understand what the application is and where the benefit of this technology is, and don't do it because you're not going to get the return. I think that's, what's endeared as to some of our customers is we're not just going to chase a, a PO because, you know, we need the cash, which obviously anybody in this space needs cash flow. Um, but it's gotta be right. We've gotta be doing it for the right reason. And I think that's ultimately what's going to win the day and show, show customers that they can have confidence in a, a company's ability to deliver that, that supply chain solution.
William Herbert (24:49):
Yeah, it's, it's definitely tough to turn down purchase orders, but in the long run, it pays off because you need a disciplined funnel don't you, and be honest with the customer about what's going to work and what won't.
Peter Adams (25:02):
William Herbert (25:05):
So what else, Pete, just to change tag a little bit, what, what are you seeing out there in terms of broader developments in the technology or, uh, the supply base that's getting you excited and, and what's happened in the last few months, uh, in terms of shifts in the industry.
Peter Adams (25:20):
I think the, um, you know, O obviously you can't ignore, uh, some of the, uh, multi laser systems, uh, that are coming out, uh, and the speed opportunity that, that gives, uh, equally some of the larger systems that are coming out there, um, you know, really get exciting, although you and I both on this stem that, that comes with an order of magnitude more risk, uh, in, in failed builds. Uh, you know, so I, I think all of that is, is really good. And again, if you find the right application, it's, uh, it's absolutely, uh, going to be a good path, you get the bugs out of it. Um, we're, we're really excited strangely enough, by, uh, the wired deposition and D E D technologies that we're bringing on board. Um, I think that, you know, in, in terms of, of tons of material is probably going to be the, the lead technology, albeit very, very different.
Peter Adams (26:36):
It's more along the, the, the near net shape forging approach. Um, but I, I think that's a, a pathway that when you look at big structural components, it's hard to argue with. Uh, so we're excited that the, you know, that's continues to develop. Uh, and I think, you know, the machines in general from all the builders, uh, a finally maturing that they're becoming repeatable and, you know, that, that makes our pathway now, as we start to scale out the production facilities from the, from the tech center here and, and move things to production, you know, that, that makes life much more realistic, uh, in what we can expect for the future. Uh, and, you know,
William Herbert (27:30):
I, I think that's huge if you can turn on the machine and, and, uh, rely on it, not to have a build interruption for some, uh, unknown reason, that's, that's going to be absolutely huge. Yeah.
Peter Adams (27:41):
Yeah. And I, and I, you know, we we're, we're all not there yet. We, but we, you can see the progress from some of the horror stories that, that you and I have have been involved with, you know, it's, you can see that we're in the right direction and the builders, uh, again, it, and we're seeing people that have, have been builders in the machine tool industries step in. And, and I think that's a good thing because they understand repeatability and reproducibility, you know, uh, we need to turn these machines into CNCS eventually.
William Herbert (28:20):
Absolutely. Pete, well, you and I could speak all day about these subjects, as we both know. Um, I, I really appreciate your honest and transparent approach to additive, uh, and the diligence that you're putting in. Um, unfortunately we've gotta wrap it up, but Peter, thank you very much for joining us.
Peter Adams (28:38):
Oh, was a pleasure talking can see you. Well,
Thanks very much to Peter Adams for joining a PowderHeads episode, his contribution to the industry is both informative and entertaining, and we're lucky to count him as a PowderHead listening to his stories about turning away customers, because they were unable to explain why they thought AM was the right technology to utilize. Could be a lesson in itself. 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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