Additive Manufacturing as an 'Accidental Passion' with Tuan Tranpham
Carpenter Additive's, Mark Pinder, Business Development Manager, sits down with Tuan Tranpham, Chief Revenue Officer (CRO) at Azul 3D, Inc, at Formnext 2021 for this recent edition of PowderHeads. Tune in as Tuan speaks about his 'accidental passion', during a time that the pandemic continues to impact AM and the larger manufacturing sector. He also questions what kind of crazy person takes on a CRO role in such a difficult and challenging market. It's a PowderHeads discussion about passion.
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. Today's episode was recorded at the FormNext 2021 expo in Frankfurt, Germany. This past November, our guest is Tuan Tranpham, Chief Revenue Officer at Azul 3D. Azul 3D is a leading edge 3D printing company with their headquarters in beautiful Skokie Illinois. Their hardware prints 3d structures from a wide array of materials and at production speeds, Tuan sits down for a discussion with Mark Pinder, Business Development Manager at Carpenter Additive. In this chat, Tuan speaks a bit about his accidental passion during a time that the pandemic continues to impact AM and indeed the larger manufacturing sector. He also questions what kind of crazy person takes on a CRO role in such a difficult and challenging market. It's a PowderHeads discussion about passion. Thanks for listening and enjoy the conversation.
Mark Pinder (01:16):
So welcome Tuan. Thanks ever so much for, uh, joining us today. Uh, we're really happy that you're here. And, um, the reason why I suggested that you come on to speak with Carpenter Additive, and ourselves today was you are a, you know, an active voice in the am industry, an enabler and keeping current with technologies. Um, so we, we found you to be quite an exciting spokesperson and wanna bring you in and have a, a chat about, a bit about yourself. Um, your background, of course. And if you know, and where that lead, what, what do you find exciting currently in the AM world? And, and we will also discuss possibly any challenges and barriers, cuz the pandemic has been a, an obviously a yeah. A troubling time, but it, it is, um, good to see that, you know, AM is, is still here even though it's a very, you know, uh, new technology. So, uh, yeah. Introduce yourself to Tuan. Tell me a little bit about yourself please.
Tuan Tranpham (02:14):
Sure. Um, first of all, thanks for having me, uh, I'm honored to, to, yeah. As to join you guys, um, little bit I'm myself. Uh, I'm a guy, I call it my accidental passion. <laugh> uh, I, I started, uh, export engineering. I actually grew up in Copenhagen Denmark. I'm a daily citizen EU citizen. Um, so I started export engineering equipment of business, but I never saw a 3d printer in my engineering degree. So when, uh, final of my now wife introduced me to that port for seeing a 3d printer for the first time, 19 years ago, I fell in love with the 3d printer back then. It's kind of like Indiana Jones, excavating powder, and you see this ball bear coming
Mark Pinder (03:06):
Out bit of an architect.
Tuan Tranpham (03:08):
And I Thought back in 2002, that this is gonna be the future. And in five years, all the companies will have a 3d printer and we're gonna change the way we prototype. And um, and I, um, I will say that often people say, go find your passion and, and stick with it. Many times you actually don't know what your passion is. So my belief now is actually what excites you, what you believe in is actually a choice that it is your passion and then you stay committed to it. So, and now I can say that I've been at 3d print for 18 years, worked for a large, uh, 3d print manufacturers. So I've seen a lot in the last 18 years as the industry has Grown.
Mark Pinder (03:50):
Yeah, no, that's great. Tuan and just, you sort of touched on, uh, a passion and, and I think that's quite important within the AM world because you know, like any new adoption, you have to have that motivation. You have to have that drive to, you know, uh, make things happen. So when you say about, you know, that what excites you, is it the, is it the vision that you see, whether AM market's going to take us from a technological point of view? Is there anything that else specifically that you really find quite exciting about the AM world?
Tuan Tranpham (04:25):
It comes a little bit back to most students, um, wish that they got this career advice from the teachers, which I did not. Is that when you later get a job, find a job in an industry, a career path that is exciting and exercise growing. And so to answer your question, once 3d printing, I got, uh, passionate about 3d printing. It was not even a billion dollar in revenue for the whole industry 18 years ago. And seeing that over the last decade, going to 12 billion, um, the excitement and the journey, the new talent, uh, coming into the industry is exciting. But realizing that if we are gonna be a legit industry, exceeding a hundred billion, uh, by most bankers, then it's gonna require a lot more talent. So by having industry insiders, sharing and inspiring, uh, other, uh, colleagues and, and new interest in this industry, give them the foundation and knowledge and insight and share there that with them will help them to fast track and learn the right kind of information because you could be misled if you read the wrong kind of news or the option. Um, it scares me a little bit that there are people who basically his or him on LinkedIn. If anybody says they're 3d printing expert, they're not an expert. <laugh> because if you are an expert, you don't need to say you're an expert. Does that make sense?
Mark Pinder (06:10):
Correct. Yep. So
Tuan Tranpham (06:12):
New coming in and after two years and they say they're an expert and they're gonna teach everybody else. I've been doing this for each year. What does that make me a dinosaur? I dunno.
Mark Pinder (06:22):
Well, you look pretty well for a dinosaur Tuan. Um, I think you, you know, what your observation with regards to talent, bringing new blood back, you know, into AM technology into the world, think it's a really crucial part of that, that, that process as to, you know, uh, take you forward, as you say, and it's funny actually post pandemic, it's more apparent now than it ever has been about that work life balance. So having that excitement, having that interest in innovative environment to actually, you know, grow in is, is actually what we people are really wanting to, you know, to work towards and AM is, is, is definitely a, a platform for that, that, you know, that thrill seeker in that area, um, in terms of the talent coming through, I acknowledge completely, I think that, um, you know, it needs more proactive from the beginning, right? It's like when you watch, um, you know, you question the NFL right in, in America, NFL is part of the blood, isn't it it's DNA because it's brought, it's been brought through, um, from schooling from academia. So it's right from the beginning, your're programmed, right. And it's a good thing. And I think that that's what needs to happen here is that not, not so much conditioning, but making people aware of what actual, um, opportunities are out in the world and try and engage people, young, young adults, you know, at that kind of age to really, you know, bring that talent, talent profile and that, you know, that work resource you need through. Um, what that's, one of the barriers I think is, is a challenge. Do you see any other barriers within am? I mean, we've been, as you know, you've been around 18 years and we hear the story quite often. We're always gonna be, you know, the niche tool manufacturers and never full scale production. Do you see any other barriers that you think that are prohibitive to that next, that in, in the, AM?
Tuan Tranpham (08:21):
I'm gonna give you multiple answers to that question? Um, I think in general, um, when you see the formation of an industry and, and the early slow growth of an industry, there is this tendency to not share what you have learned. Yeah. And by not sharing, that means other people will make a lot of the same mistake you did a few years ago or they get ago. So when I observed this a while back, I decided that, well, it's a personal, uh, it's gonna be a personal, uh, answer because I spent 10 years in polymer, non metals. And when I went to a and selling electron beam, I'm like, okay, I need to learn the metal space. I don't know medals. Right. It's, it's a whole new ball game. Yeah. You up against casting at CNC and forging and so forth. So I look online, I Google is there at 3d printing tutorial, a short part, a hat or white paper prime. So I can Ram up to speak because I want to do well. I want to have for a career expansion into metals mm-hmm <affirmative> and there weren't, and that shocked me printer actually already been around for 17 years. Yep. So my general, what I learned within the first year of <inaudible> actually knocking on doors and trial and error and learning, how is it different than laser Palo bed? I actually decided to start sharing my insights with people. On LinkedIn, LinkedIn is a awesome platform and it's free. So I start sharing that and, and people actually, um, the community for AM is awesome. It is, isn't it love encouraging feedback. And, and that encouraged me to continue to share those insights or observation. Um, so I just wish that more people, I'm not the only one in the industry who could share. So one answer to you is I wish that more people would share, um, more frequently than what they have versus only once a year. You go to a usable meeting and then you get a brain dump for whole week. I wish that, and then you disappear again yeah. Throughout the year of more frequently. Um, so, so that's one answer of, I encourage people to share knowledge. Um, the other chance for the industry, I will touch pandemic later, but in general, what I've seen over the last 18 years is there's a lot of, um, learning from the last decade. There was a recession in oh nine or oh nine and 10 a decade ago, uh, with this recent recession. Mm-hmm <affirmative>. And then on top of again, the pandemic. So when you have this, um, cycle, you can look what happened last time. What happened last time was it was all about prototyping. It was a lot about consumer. It was a lot about every home would have a 3d printer in the kitchen, all that that is not reality. And it, it, it just wrong marketing. So it was consumer was polymer. It was a few players. It was, um, low awareness. And where we are today now from 1.2 billion to 12 billion, we are going up. So it's a little bit from, we went from, we graduated the industry. I graduated from elementary school. We now in high school, but to go to the next frontier to go to university, is that the, we gonna be a legit industry at 120 billion grow 10 X again. Yep. Um, I see a lot of growing pains, because we have to step up to the challenge because now the next 100 billion will be, has to be manufacturing. If you cannot help the industry with new technology, innovation, get into mass production of many, many parts, not just a few prototype or tooling object and fix, we are not gonna grow the industry. Everybody just doing 1, 2, 5 of prototypes. And, and so to, to grow the industry, we actually have to learn what is manufacturing? What is the requirement of time? So is, is a, is a whole new ball game. And I'm not sure all manufacture understand at that. Having a printer is not a solution because for customer, it is the end product, all the post processing, the dirty secret that nobody really tower parties. There's always post processing, no matter what technology, what material. Yep. And that is not automated. So I see a future where we need a 3d Printer is technically a robot. Yep. So you have that automation and it is almost so smart. You don't need an operator, but what's the point if that is automated, but you still have to wash it clean it and put it in the oven or this manual work or with future pandemic six feet apart, it, it's not gonna cut it.
Mark Pinder (13:32):
I think. Yeah. It took you spot Tuan, and frankly, and again, it's more of stepping back, isn't it. And looking at the, as you say, a holistic, um, an ecosystem rather than trying to, I did see a period of hardware driven, um, influence. So I think there's a lot of hardware manufacturers driving certain trends. Um, and I think that kind of steered the industry down a narrow path. And I think now, um, the more people talk about AM as whole know holistic picture, rather than I guess, bias towards trying to push a, a machine sale through or a powder sale through what we've all gotta do is, is exactly come to gather, um, and share our ideas as a full ecosystem so that we can deliver ultimately what is required to make that, that big, big step forward. Um, so yeah, I think, I think that's, um, a valid point. I mean, I just wanted to sort of say that fair play to you guys in mid the pandemic, securing 12.5 million in investment. I saw on one of your press releases last year. I mean, uh, hat off to you guys for, you know, showing that even in the most toughest times, you know, people pull together and people believe in this technology. So it it's people like yourself Tuan and, and businesses like ours that are trying to drive forward and, and really deliver, you know, a, a new, uh, engineering solution that, uh, provides all those benefits. Um, I mean, it, it kind of brings me to a topic which is like current and that's the cop 26, that was quite, you know, the recent conference. And what I see now is, um, a big drive towards when people are assessing supply chains. The, the footprint is a huge part of that consideration. You know, generally it was price quality. And, but now the environmental factor, I think, will play quite a significant part in the, you know, in the supplier assessment. So how do you see, you know, it's the reusability, it's the, um, trying to make this more cost effective? How, how do you see that happen in the AM world? You know, what, what catches your attention in terms of usability? Do you have any ideas on that?
Tuan Tranpham (15:57):
What we have observed over the last two decades is often somebody invent a machine, some kind of print in engine, and they do a product launch and stop the printer out and customer find out what that you can do with it. Yeah. And that has generally been the way 3d prints been launched, but none of them really understand the application of your application. I actually go through the main point of actually making that kind of product. So I see that the new trend is trying to be more focusing on the application, not the print itself, but actually what it can make, but to answer your question related, to pandemic as well, is that the interest or the due diligence of the homework in additive was happening? When I think with the pandemic, with reassuring and supply chain constraints, especially coming from Asia yeah. Is that people are now more proactively. So in a positive way, even more people are looking at, I, I can't have this happen again. Yeah. How do I do a backup, uh,
Mark Pinder (17:08):
Inventory management for supply
Tuan Tranpham (17:10):
Chain mm-hmm <affirmative>, but it also, uh, touches another trend that I see is historically there were a few players, they had a printer, it was the latest tech. I got a have it, everybody bought it, figuring out what to do with, with it. Yeah. And it ended up being a expensive piece of furniture and didn start being used. Correct. So printers was sold. Now you have it. Option can buy. Now you can even lease it. But I think we of the pandemic, uh, so actually challenge the industry is like, why don't we ask the customer? So I haven't finished this yet, but the another insight I'm gonna be sharing soon, the thought is the additive customer, bill of rights, what do they actually want? Yep. And nobody's really talking about that. And, and, and, and, and having that coming from a sales guy and equipment manufacturer sales guy is kinda hard, but I'll, I'll take a stab at it. I think in the future are a customer with everything going on. They, and it's coming and the industry doesn't know it yet is the customer actually do not want to buy the printer. They don't want to lease it actually, what they really want my take on this is that probably done major product traditionally, somehow what they really want is that, which is non-negotiable. Can you produce that through additive, um, with the, with the same quality or superior quality, or can you add value to 3d printing coding channel live? Yeah. Merging out. Can you give me value for the quality is nonnegotiable. If you meet those requirements, I really don't care which machine is been done, which material, which design. I only want it as long as the quality is non negotiable. I just wanted cheap, faster, better locally on demand. So I see a future where the future will be for additive. When we grow another a hundred billion, is that it will be AWS 3d printing in the cloud. That mean for any customer. Why do you have to own and piece of equipment struggling to find talent, to operate it stealing from other customers to get the talent. And then the technology obsolete in two years or new framework u[grade is happening. And my, my staff resign after two years and I need to retrain and relearn that again. But what I want is just the part at a high quality, cheaper, faster, and better at the high quality, but I want it across the street locally that touches the re showing. So I think the future is going to be where if you are actually not buying or leasing any equipment, you actually buying capacity to make what you need. And we should have a conversation about that. It's gonna change the Business model completely. I,
Mark Pinder (20:19):
I think that's quite visionary actually. And I mean, there is a lot of talk about, you know, manufacturing 4.0, and that is essentially a, you know, an end to end solution that, you know, is essentially, uh, with, you know, adoption of AI, adoption of robotics and all these sort of ancillary equipment and the printers. And ultimately all the, again, all the post-procesing equipment to a point where that essentially could be a factor that almost runs itself. And, you know, with, with the data, I mean, data is, is the key, isn't it to progression in this technology. And the more data we have, I think this will be realized eventually, uh, it is a, almost like a matrix style, the possibility where you literally have these factories, self operating to make these parts and you, and you indeed lease out the capacities for your, you know, capacity will be the, the commodity, right? Not the machine, not the, you know, the tool it'll be capacities, the new currency. So it's an interest concept and I will be around to see that possibly
Tuan Tranpham (21:30):
<laugh> I think relating to that as well is also so far somebody designed some kind of new part using CAD by human. So human design, those designs, but I think in the future with AI and, and smart tech and having machine learning for all the technology that is possible, what actually is the reverse is I tell the computer what actually I need of the boundary constrain and loads and so forth. And actually, uh, if you cat designer listen, careful future design that will be pre put will be done by computers, not by humans anymore. Yeah. They can do it so much faster, so much better. Yeah. They can compute much at a level No humans can. So if you don't adapt to that new reality, you gonna, you know, left behind. So this is a wake up call.
Mark Pinder (22:30):
No, I, I think it's great and appreciate you sharing that opinion. Tuan and that, that vision that you see, it's a definitely talking point. And I have one last question actually, and it's digressing a little bit from, you know, that kind of philosophical discussion we've been having is why did you call it lake? This is your, your company as you with 3d while lake. I, I almost see that funnily enough, the vision that you've been talking about, which is this almost this power out of a manufacturing site, is it like what the epitome of lake is? Right. So it's just a big place where a lot of things happen and the ecosystem, maybe I'm reading too much into it.
Tuan Tranpham (23:08):
So this is one happen when, when two, uh, amazing PhD students in a, uh, nano chemistry lab of chat me's lab were thinking of company name and product name. So answer your question. The first generation, the first prototype is actually come upon. It was bigger than a pond LA, what do you think our next part was bigger than LA the sea mm-hmm <affirmative> what is larger than a sea, the Ocean.
Mark Pinder (23:43):
So does that represent your revolution then as a business, right. Effectively,
Tuan Tranpham (23:48):
let's get through a very big hit. So this is how this is how PhD maybe should not do market <laugh> well, so even the company name Zo is means blue in Spanish, blue in Spanish. He, my blue vest and,
Mark Pinder (24:03):
and you're quite fetching in that as well. Tuan and must admit, well, I think it's been an absolute pleasure talking To you Tuan thanks ever so much for sharing your, you know, your opinions in the AM industry. And thanks everybody else for listening much appreciate over and out.
Thanks very much to Tuan Tranpham for joining us on PowderHeads, his insight on the industry, and it's call to share knowledge and information is a message that we hear a lot of additive manufacturing experts reference. 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!