PowderHeads: Episode 12

Collaboration and Innovation in Additive Manufacturing with Mike Adams

Carpenter Additive's Nick Weeks, sits down with Mike Adams, CEO of HiETA Technologies, a product development and production company specialised in the use of Additive Manufacturing. A serial entrepreneur with experience in the implementation of automated systems and change management, Mike covers how he started out in AM, his ‘mad inventor’ colleagues, cool additive applications, and collaboration and innovation with motorsport teams.

You can read the transcript or listen to the full episode below. 



Full Transcript

Intro (00:10):
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. We're staying in the UK again for our latest episode, Nick Weeks, general manager of carpenter additives, Liverpool facility speaks with Mike Adams, CEO of HiETA Technologies, a product development and production company specializing in the use of additive manufacturing. Mike walks us through the start of HiETA and how they've developed and built their business relying very much in collaboration. The exchange on university graduates and the engineering career paths available to them nowadays was also a good bit. Thanks for listening and enjoy the conversation.

Nick Weeks (00:57):
So Mike, welcome to PowderHeads. Um, thank you very much for giving us a chance today to, to have a chat with you. Uh, do you want to start by just giving us, um, a bit of background about yourself and how you got into the additive manufacturing industry?

Mike Adams (01:11):
Oh yeah. Cool. Um, so I'll start with, my name is Mike Adams CEO and one of the founders of, uh, HiETA technologies. So we are a-a company that sets up and 2011, um, by a couple of, uh, I'd like to say young budding entrepreneurs, but actually we were quite old, but a kind of classic mad, mad inventor and business head, if you like. So my partner, a drummer and leads the mad inventor and, um, I kind of come from a kind of, uh, um, business, uh, mergers and acquisitions, uh, opportunity creating backgrounds. So we got together via, um, uh, an associate. And, um, I remember drama that at the time showed me this, this, um, new fangled technology that he'd been working on called additive matta-. It, uh, additive manufacturing and he showed something that, um, he had made traditionally and something which is half the size and really light, uh, in this new fangled technology. And that was the bit that, that sold me really. Um, it went off and it was just one of those tiny moments in life. Uh, additive manufacturing was everywhere, newspapers in the UK. It's financial times at the time.

Nick Weeks (02:33):
When was this?

Mike Adams (02:34):
This would have been around about 2000 and, uh, well, we probably started talking around 2009, 10. Okay. And we started the company about 2007. Um, and we've kind of worked out that by the time all the hype did kind of come through that it would probably be ready to be commercialized around the 20 21, 20 22. Okay. Um, and we tracking pretty much to track and then this nasty little thing called the pandemic came along and say all the time, it's just slightly out generally. It's, it's gone pretty much as we expected.

Nick Weeks (03:10):
Okay. And I was, yeah, I was going to think, uh, everyone has been slightly affected by this, uh, this, this, uh, global pandemic that we've been living through over the last year or so. Um, so now that you're in 2020-2021 now, um, where else have you got, you got to go with where w what have you solved and what do you you've still got left to, uh, to tackle?

Mike Adams (03:33):
Well, I think there are a lot of truisms that have been proven. So the advantages of the technology, pretty evidence to see now, um, you can say, and in some of the, uh, if like geometric possibilities of, of what you can develop. So it is ,if you think about us as the company, we make edisions, but essentially what we do is sell complexity. I, um, it's all about the physics and getting as much certainty to the surface, um, area interest spaces, small as possible without actually changing the physics of what's going on, which is very much suited to additive manufacturing. Um, and what you're trying to balance is how far you can push that, um, compared to how mature that the machine is that you're working on. And unfortunately, both of those things I are advancing at a pace say, you're trying to balance, um, the, the risk of pushing too far, and either the technology or creating, or the machine you were creating it or creating it on.

Nick Weeks (04:42):
So, so if you're, if you're too conservative, you're not adding enough value to your, to your customer. Um, but if you push it too far, you've got right to the edge of the working envelope and, and things can fall off the other side, obviously.

Mike Adams (04:55):
Exactly. So, so you can come and measure it in simplistic terms. If you get too close to the edge of the envelope, you just end up throwing all bits in the bin, uh, and then you have to figure out why you're throwing the bits in the bin, and then actually to actually make it commercially viable for both you and the client. And you have to get it down to an acceptable sweet stock. And that depends on both the maturity of the products and the maturity of the market you're going into, so becomes quite a complex problem to manage.

Nick Weeks (05:28):
And the, your- everything you're having to do is, is must be adapted because I imagined the design through the project with someone is changing, uh, daily, weekly, uh, regularly. And also that your understanding of the equipment that you're using and how far you can push it as changing as you go as well.

Mike Adams (05:49):

Nick Weeks (05:49):
How do you manage that?

Mike Adams (05:51):
Um, it's, it's tough to be honest. Um, and, and do you have different challenges? So we, do, a lot of innovation based work where we are our job in, in those kinds of roles is to push it as far as we can. Um, well, yeah, to do that to a certain point, and then eventually you have to turn it into a real product, and then you start to bring in the manufacturing developments to, um, reduce the amount of risks you're putting into the system. It's almost like a classic stuff where you do a proof of concept where you can show something. All right. I understand this will work. I can see out at work. Okay. It's not absolutely perfect, but I know I can now invest a bit more time and money into making something that, that fits the bill for, for its particular application. If that makes sense. And what we, as a business, what we do is, is we manage that life cycle. Um, so, uh, what we tend to have is a lot of very multi-skilled or two times engineers, rather than just one type of skill, if that makes sense.

Nick Weeks (07:02):
Yeah, no, that makes complete sense. I think I want to get back to that a little bit later about the skill set and how do you find the right, the right people, the right innovators to, to, to join your business. But I think just focusing on the AM technology right now, one of the things you're doing is managing the pace of change of the AM machine at the moment is, is quite, still very quick from where the ad machines were five, 10 years ago to where they are today and where they're probably going to be in the future. How do you manage that, that sort of feedback loop in that trial and error, um, versus actually getting something out to your customer, a tangible product out to your customer?

Mike Adams (07:46):
Um, it's a common-And so we're very lucky. So we've got a lot of very, um, understanding clients who understand the, um, if you like product life cycle they're in. Um, and we're also very lucky that, uh, in sense that we built, we work in, uh, a particularly collaborative wrighly. So we're normally, um, not only highly integrated with, with, um, someone like our machine supplier, where we're working in with them and talking about where they acetate machine next, what kind of RNT they, they should be put in, in, uh, we constantly, um, have discussions about actually, what is it we sell? Um, so it's not just their machine. It's not just a bit of metal. It's actually, we want to be selling. So what will you need to sell at the end of the day is a product that satisfies the customer's need. And, um, they can, uh, they know that in making that they will deliver it with confidence and that's effectively what you're selling.

Mike Adams (08:51):
Um, and actually we have to balance the teams to do that. Um, one of our more successful areas is if you like, um, auto sport. So actually you take those two teams time to teams, and you've got, um, an interest, quite an interest in the aligned, uh, dynamic in that, uh, the, the kind of tech teams who are in auto sport, they have a racing performance fastest that they can in that particular race, but there is a deadline, uh, that they have to say, we both need to understand that. Um, but actually when we get to that, um, that point we asked the best performance we can get out out of that particular part in that situation adds to the viability of both, uh, both partners in that and that project, if you want. I mean, so we're adding real value to our customer and they win more races.

Mike Adams (09:52):
So therefore they win more races. They're more interested in more, um, confident in the services that we're providing the products that, um, uh, we're producing, unless you had that kind of collaborative dynamic. Some of the stuff that we do becomes much, much harder to, um, deliver in the sense that it's, for me, it's not really an industry at the moment where you can, um, be too classically hard aged or, um, contractual, because it's just not a predictable life for each person, point of view. You've got to accept that, nobody knows exactly how the machines work at the moment. Maybe really understand totally the physics and actually because of the types of products we're doing, we're still learning about the, um, problems that we're going to face. So you put all of those things together, unless you have a joint team that understands that you've got to support each other and all of those things, it's always going to be difficult.

Nick Weeks (10:54):
Yeah. I think I really like the easiest things to talk about the auto sport industry and that creates hard deadlines, the races on this date, no one's moving in the race because you can't make the part you want to make in time. Um, and the fact that if your part brings them success, that that brings opportunity to, to do more with them and collaborate deeper. That's, um, that's like a really great example of how to drive some innovation, I think. And it's really good to see that you've got that, that the collaboration side, it's obviously a two way engagement. Um, so I imagine there's a lot of learning that your customer's doing from you and the way that you were doing things. Um, so they, they understand the, uh, the power of what you can offer them is that, um, I presume you also learned a lot off the customer as well in terms of what their needs are.

Mike Adams (11:49):
Yeah. So when we, uh, we actually funny enough, we did spend now, aside from my partner spent a lot of time trying to figure out what we wanted to be as a company almost two years. It took us before you put pen to paper. Um, and it was really interesting at the time, um, looking at where he saw a great in innovation, um, a great deal of let's say high-risk technologies applying, um, and at the time the, uh, or even seeing it is that, um, pharmacy tools sounds a great example where you saw, um, much more of, um, a focus into working, correct collaboratively, then trying to do it all yourself. Um, and actually when you were a small itty bitty start-up, uh, with a couple of PCs and a café to work at you do know is you don't have all the skills and you don't have the capability. So you have to say, how do I know what I want to achieve? So how do I get there? And you tend to do that by working collaboratively. So we kind of looked at the pharmaceutical model and you said, well, okay, how are we going to develop something that is such a technically, challenging problem? Um, as a small SME, you got to collaborate. And we also were very lucky at that time. So, um, serendipity is a great thing. So we, I think we timed, um, our progressing to additive at the right time, level of interest in what people wanted to do, but also, um, the UK government was, uh, very supportive of that additive as, as a long-term strategy for the country. So, um, they provided a lot of funding. Uh, part of that funding, uh, show also was very clever, forced you to collaborate with lots of different companies, universities, places, uh, that you wouldn't necessarily, um, kind of approach if you just looked at it as, as a kind of inter, um, typical commercial organization. So we've by design, we've drawn up as, uh, a collaborative company. And, uh, I think, uh, our intent is to stay that way.

Nick Weeks (14:10):
Now, that's really good to hear. And have you found, um, the industry, obviously you've cut back on other industries as well. Have you found the industry to be most people to be open and collaborative or, um, is there certain parts of the industry that are more collaborative than others?

Mike Adams (14:29):
I think, Just be open and honest? I think there's always a spread approximately there are some people who are very comfortable with it. There are some people who are, um, what to be very protective about. IP and that kind of stuff, um, it's also quite interesting as well. Um, so in my past, uh, done a lot of partnership arrangements so far, and whatever people say it does tend to be driven by individuals and when those individuals move on, unless you can do that. Uh, but you're kind of a one-to-one partnerships, uh, and the, um, human to human interaction, those partnerships fall apart. So what I would say is that I find most AM people are collaborative and open. There's always a fair rules wants to, to look after their own, um, crown jewels.

Nick Weeks (15:26):

Mike Adams (15:26):
But generally they're very helpful.

Nick Weeks (15:30):
Collaboration has been a big theme of these Powderheads podcasts. I think nearly everyone we've spoken to is highlighted the need for it and how that's helped them get started in the industry or move somewhere in the industry. So it's really interesting to hear you echoing a lot of the same, a lot of the same thoughts, I guess. And that that relationship side of thing is, I think is definitely a completely review really important. And you need to build a relationship with someone to be able to trust them, to be able to be more collaborative and share your information with them.

Mike Adams (16:02):
And, well, I think as an industry, we have to be honest with ourselves. It's still a relatively small industry. Yeah. Uh, we don't, we produce as even as a, uh, as a whole, we produce relatively small numbers of parts. Yeah. Um, actually on knowledge of, um, let's say production, even a unit and the people who are doing more is still relatively limited. And I think you raised the point earlier, it's a lot harder trying to predict what it's gonna look like in five or six years. Um, which is kinda interesting because you also now see you seeing multiple technologies.

Nick Weeks (16:51):
Yes. The different technologies available are still getting wider. Aren't they? And, and you're, you're using predominantly the part powder bed fusion process, but that there's so many others coming on the market that can, that, that, that can turn your head and you go home. Maybe it should be binded jet that I'm looking towards, or maybe it should be more of a DED technology or hybrid technology. And it's, um, you've got to stay focused. You don't want to stay focused on something that isn't gonna, uh, sort of come at the end of it, I guess. So it's yeah, it it's, yeah. It's a really exciting and, and, and fast paced, uh, industry you're right. It is small, um, and really complex. I think we completely agree that you can't be a master of all the, all the areas of it. You can't understand the material side of it, the design complexities, how lasers work, topology and all that sort of stuff, and do it all for yourself. So you need to work together.

Mike Adams (17:45):
I think, um, one, my, my, uh, um, less popular comments, I guess, industry is at the end of the day. Um, you can almost say AM doesn't matter. It's all about the product. So, um, you have to make something that improves, uh, somebody's um, position in life, either by making products more efficient, satisfying that the need, you have to satisfy some on that. Somebody wants.

Nick Weeks (18:26):

Mike Adams (18:26):
Uh, actually the fact that we make it, I AM, should be advantage to us, but if we lose sight of the fact that you're making something to add value to the customer or to someone else, you're losing sight of why you're there.

Nick Weeks (18:41):
Yeah. Yeah. That customers not coming to you for an additively manufactured product, they're coming to you for a product that's going to be X percent more efficient or lighter or smaller.

Mike Adams (18:51):
I probably would agree with that. We do actually one of the more interesting questions that we didn't get, people come to us and say, actually, we just want to do we were told, we have to look at additive manufacturing okay. And sit down and talk to them, but they don't really know why, you know, uh, but someone told them they have to kind of look at it. Um, it's hard, uh, cause you, you want people to be interested in, understand the technology and what you wanted them to be, um, understand the possibilities. Um, but you do, you do have to move away from, I'm just doing this because I'm doing it. And I AM because it's actually, there's no reason to do it because most of the time you don't want to make it cheaper. So you have to add value some, some time. So you have to find the right. Um, and I think everybody in the industry probably says this, you have to find the right opportunity. And then you have to kind of add value. I'll say it's more than that for me, if I wasn't an evangelist, about anything is this, you need to understand where, where are you going and what you are. I use the term sell, but it could be, could be anything. It could be, um, you want to reduce carbon emissions or, but you need a reason why you're doing It.

Nick Weeks (20:11):
Yeah. Okay. That makes sense. And the, I guess that the hype around additive manufacturing has driven people to say, I want to make a part for additive manufacturing, but it's, that's a, it's an okay starting point, but you've got to get to the, the real world. What do you want to achieve? What, what's the performance improvement of your product that you're, you're trying to achieve. And then can we get that through the unique design that you can get to through additive manufacturing?

Mike Adams (20:38):
Yeah. It's really good. Sometimes these conversations they come in and people come in that they've already directed rather, rather than something we're generally interested in, which is great. So equally some of the directors come and talk to you and sit down. So yeah. Okay. Let's look at this and you go through it and you sit there and say, well, this is going to cost you Y and he can just see their whole world will crumble into nothing. Sometimes, sometimes you do that and you tell them, you sit down and say, all right, so you do analysis it will cost more. And that gets even bigger hole. But, uh, that, I would say Spirito was a god for every, uh, canopy people you've talked to that you get, uh, um, the 20% there absolutely gets it. They know why they're doing it, what they want from it. And they, they can see where it's going and those, uh, days, if the client's your blazer, their gold dust to the industry. And really, yeah.

Nick Weeks (21:42):
And they're the ones you create them, the collaborative relationship.

Mike Adams (21:45):
Yeah I think So, uh, And I think that's very key because they wouldn't stay with you if, if it just becomes.

Nick Weeks (21:53):
So do you have, uh, an application, uh, with a customer that you can talk about in a bit more detailed than that, the journey that you've been on with them?

Mike Adams (22:01):
Yeah, So I, I do like, uh, auto sport as an industry, um, because of the demands, they have, we have a good and strong relationship with our customers in that space. And we've, um, developed, uh, 80 Shane's in that, in that space where we started from, from the point that, uh, and we did actually start from the point as well. We know we can make this thing, this technology, but what am I going to get out of it? Um, can I make it, um, a lighter, can I make it, um, uh, increase that performance envelope, but also then can I, um, can I use the advantages I get with the geometry to help the whole system? So that the other thing that we generally recommend people, uh, be good to do is to try not to think about an individual component all the time, but to understand where it sets in, in the complete system. So I was going to auto sport is a great place to look at because you've got a limited amount of, um, should I real estate within the show of the car and actually what might seem to us like a completely ridiculous thing to do actually allows the, um, your partner to do something which might improve the aerodynamics or might improve the, uh, the pressure drop in part of the part of the system. And being able to sit down with the client and talk about those pros and cons, where were you getting and where you don't get gain is, is that that's a great creative place to be. Yeah. Because you actually, you all the teams are sitting there and they understand what it comes back to you understanding what you're trying to do. Uh, it's less grating on, they just say, put it, there you go. I want it to be that kind of direction for me. It's the lifeblood where the company started then, um, uh, if I've seen back to the most enjoyable, uh, parts of, uh, growth, it was when we were going through those, um, those periods where we were all learning, what, what was possible, you know,

Nick Weeks (24:18):
No, that's really interesting. I think that you're talking about like the systems engineering level that, although you're, you're, uh, designing and building a heat exchanger from, for someone, it may increase the efficiency of the heat exchanger, but it can also affect the upstream, downstream, uh, parts of that system or the how the Aero dynamics around it. And there's a more holistic benefit and just the, the efficiency of that heat exchanger. Right?

Mike Adams (24:43):
Yeah. Unfortunately, I've seen it. We've got a great example sitting on the table here. Wait, is that just age? But the, uh, the amount of functionality being able to build into the season change is huge. Uh, the numbers, one of the things that people are aware of, uh, I think is that you can, if you like combine functionalities into one component, if people are aware of that, but actually as easy on actually making it happen within a very limited space is, um, is kind of interesting. Um, and actually is, I guess, part particularly come a little bit. We were talking about the, um, new technologies coming along that still remains one of the great challenges because the, the way the component comes out, uh, isn't always how you think it's gonna come out never anybody ever told you this, but it doesn't always come. Um, and actually, uh, finding out how those, those different orientations and, and different fusions of concepts or ideas actually impacts what comes out of that. Uh, the part is, um, is really interesting. I want one of them, probably one second, one more contentious area places. Uh, might be different, let's say a classic engine There is, um, there is a tendency, uh, particularly on the older industries, uh, that you can model everything out, all the risk out, uh, um, uh, much more of a particularly where we're developing new technologies, such as AM. Um, there is as much value as trying to do that in parallel, so that you build a test at the same time, rather than trying to model it today. And what's it going back to the period I was talking about, we were, we were able to, um, uh, if you like do a, do a concept design build and test it in a week. So no matter what you said, you can't simulate it in a week because you don't know enough about what is actually coming out in the machines, be able to simulate it. So you had to do both, both in parallel and because we built our whole process and strategy around that, we, we just, we could just move incredibly quickly. Um, I think as more CA comes in, I think one of the dangers for the industry is, is you lose that parallel track. That makes sense.

Nick Weeks (26:12):
No, no, It does make sense. Um, uh, my, some of my previous experience was in traditional manufacturing and, um, two points really resonated for me that one was, um, working with the, uh, the design engineers. Um, uh, and you're working in this digital environment. You're working in, in some form of a CAD environment and they've done those simulations on it. And then you have to go make it that as you say, whether you're making it, uh, out of something that's cast, or you need a complex fixture, there's a huge lead time waiting for that to get your first real results to make a component. And then it doesn't do what they thought it was going to do. And they go, well, why is that? And then they come down and have a look at it. And well, it doesn't look quite the same as it does in my this monitor back in the design. And you're like, no, no, it doesn't because that's in a traditional process that people have had 50 years to understand. And, um, that's that, that initiative processes in additive manufacturing is a much shorter cycle time that you can learn that if you allow it, if you're

Mike Adams (28:35):
That. So my worry for a certain cross company, I think for industry is, uh, we're, allowing us to convince ourselves that actually you can take that away and model it. Yeah. Um, and I think for me, it's, I'm not saying one's right or wrong, but I don't think. Uh, so why am I saying this? I don't say one should be premium. I see needed to base my personal until we, we absolutely understand the physics. Uh, I think you need to run both and you to run parallel and you need to accept that you don't know which one's right until you built it and tested it.

Nick Weeks (29:14):
Yeah. I that's, that's, it's a really good point. And so that, that the fantastic advantages in advances, in digital technology, uh, help collaboration and they help you with our understanding. Um, but we can't forget, um, that the trial and other trial and error elements of, uh, yeah, doing some work, creating something and put it on a test bed and see, see what, see what results you get.

Mike Adams (29:42):
Well, they will mature eventually when you do you move through the team, you'll get to the point where, you know, what you built is going to come out as close, as close to your plan as possible. But in the early stages, when it's the first time you run that geometry, or you attend that particular type of design, you say, you don't know what is going to come out on like. You have to have a balanced approach.

Nick Weeks (30:11):
We're not going to push the limits if you stay within the physical model or what the computer understands. As you say, you won't try the new geometry that the computer hasn't got a simulation for you. Don't try it, try it, which is yeah. From the, like the human innovation of, of trying out something different.

Mike Adams (30:28):
Yeah. It's worth thinking that all the great inventions in the world and the history of man, how many of those have come out from actually things that weren't planned were just absolutely accidental. And w- we've had situations where we've made a leap in, um, design understanding by a complete accident, right? Because actually the surface you get, isn't what you're planning, what you're trying to design. So unless you adopt that same kind of losing something, that's alternative about a pharmaceutical industry and seeing how many drugs are planned and designed for a particular application but actually, if they end up being applied somewhere else, where they add a much greater value. So, um, I think is interesting that we, we go into an industry where our, uh, um, statement is we get rid of all the geometry we get rid of all these rules. And then the first thing we tried to do is put all the rules back. It's current, there's always a balance.

Nick Weeks (31:43):
Yeah, yeah, no, that makes sense. I, I like that. Yeah. Those numbers is a value. You find a lot of things out by accident and that, and yeah, that, that's really interesting. The, uh, I, someone always told me about how metal cold spray came about, was someone running a, uh, an HVR half process where they, they, they forgot to, they forgot to add there, the element that was, uh, uh, the heat, they didn't turn on the, um, uh, the oxygen burning capacity, but then they looked at it and this was in a Russian lab somewhere. And you're sort of building up quite a romantic idea in your head. They look to that and they realized the powder is actually stuck and they've gone, well, how does that happen? And why is that happening? And from there, as they've, they've created this metal cold spray technology, where if you just blast it hard enough, you get, uh, you get, uh, a mechanical and a chemical interlock that, um, you don't need to add that, that heat see. So, yeah, it was really interesting to see innovation born out of something you weren't expecting at all.

Mike Adams (32:42):
So my background is in, uh, an in kind of engineering, uh, kinda more in robotics and software. I remember, uh, when we first started this journey, we were talking to people about, uh, micro turbines, wind turbines being told a very similar story about turbine blades, right? So that when, uh, the origins of the turbine blade is they used to Polish it almost to like a mirror finish. Uh, cause they thought that would just make it much more efficient, none of that stuff. And then someone forgot and put it in there and had a really rough surface and there's some phenomenal difference in performance and they couldn't figure it out. So they got out and they realized it wasn't polished, which is isn't that kind

Nick Weeks (33:26):
Of stuff. Yeah. I know that's yeah, that, that is really interesting as well. And that's the, um, that, that that's really interesting and that, that the human perception is sort of like mirror finish will be better to someone spends hours manually publishing it. And then someone forgets so that you get there, the airflow has just changed you to the, uh, the surface roughness. Yeah. And now there's a whole industry around vibrant polishing to get the right surface finish, which isn't, it's not like zero RA. They want a surface roughness between X and Y to get that, that the airflow. Yeah. That's really interesting.

Mike Adams (33:58):
And I think it's, um, coming back to the breadth of new machine talent coming out, it's kind of comes back to, uh, challenges for rural companies. I Think is there's no, uh, there's no guarantee powder beds better when there's no Gampy binder jest will win. Um, and it might be a combination of all of them. Um, but it's interesting. All of them might have, uh, a different result on the same design. Yeah. And, and that that's quite challenging for the industry. Um, and then trying to figure out what is the, uh, the best type of technology for a particular occupation. And you're, you're going to be balancing different things. So you can be balancing cost and production speed for instance, on one side, but actually some of these 50 for what we do, where are you looking at surface finishing and counter all kinds of things like that, how do you get a pattern and all that kind of stuff you might get advantage on, on one machine, because those are easier or you get better results versus the machine over here, which does it quicker and cheaper. And I think for the industry at the moment, nobody can answer those questions.

Nick Weeks (35:17):
A lot of the technologies are moving at such a pace. That was a problem where binder jetting five years ago, isn't necessarily the same problem that you've got today. And I certainly see some people make decisions or build requirements into specifications based on previous experiences. They previous negative experiences they've had, but they've had a problem. They had a problem with. Um, so in the powder, what I'm talking about, maybe powder contamination, where they then, um, over spec potentially to mitigate that problem happening again, where in some ways that, that the industry has moved on in a way that that's not as relevant and it can actually hold you back instead of allow you to move forward. So it's, um, it's a really tough subject to manage all these different variables and come up with that final solution. Isn't it.

Mike Adams (36:07):
And, uh, I remember way back when we were talking, uh, when we were looking at site and company, um, everybody was, it was, um, making the comparison with the early days of, um, um, a PC technology, because the pace of change was just say, say, hi, it's really difficult. And it's still high, but in the first, I mean, oh, when we started up USC orders of magnitude improvement in a mature accordance in speed every three or four years. Yeah. And even now you still have a sense of massive, um, advances, um, Moore's law, almost module. Uh, I think the difference between us and, uh, um, and, uh, the kind of it was long, um, is it actually the physical element of what comes out with machine is, uh, uh, is in there as well. So although we can make machines, we currently do stuff quicker, but actually what comes out, you still ask that every time you change these things, you have to understand what physically comes out of the beast. So we changed the material. Is it coming out differently? Has it made you better or actually hasn't made it worse. Yeah. And that makes it quite an interesting era for the engineers. Probably a slightly more challenging for the economics and that kind of stuff.

Nick Weeks (37:36):
I can, I can appreciate that. Um, you talked about one of the, like more enjoyable moments of what you've done was the sort of the collaboration, the innovation with, uh, auto sports teams and you designed and intuitively got to a really great product. How much of that is, uh, I guess, is supported by digital collaboration? Are you doing it? Are you talking about, this is much more face-to-face. Um, are you looking at catcher on material? You're looking at real parts, get, can you give us a bit of an idea of what you've found?

Mike Adams (38:09):
That's a very good crusher, particularly given what we've seen, a couple of interesting things at the time, it was much more, uh, um, it was much more, um, human interaction. We had a lot of human interaction we still did, or were still sharing, uh, drawings and moved to it, doing all that kind of stuff. Did you get traction with working on the same drawings on the same documents? Um, um, in, up to probably a couple of years ago. Um, funny enough, uh, just before the pandemic, we, um, so we're a small company quite hard, uh, and you kind of look at as, as a good business number, you look at the current economics of just getting more and more office space, and you're kind of thinking actually, what do my team want? Um, and particularly the age group, because when we started, the other thing we understood when we started the company is you couldn't go and buy the skills because nobody can do it.

Mike Adams (39:11):
So we had to set the company up with the idea that we would bring in as many talented people as we can, but actually grow the skills. Um, and they are of an age, shall we say? And actually, uh, they enjoyed the lifestyle and then joined the change or that kind of stuff. And you're going to talk to them and they, they liked the idea of time not being in the office or, uh, the idea of, okay, I want to work more and more home. And so we'd been talking about, do we do more of that? So, um, it wasn't something that was particularly prevalent in our kind of industry, but we've been thinking about it, um, as a way to, to balance all this stuff and actually just keep the, um, I'll use the term, um, hope you take it right away. But as a young vibrant team, you want them to be young and vibrant.

Mike Adams (40:09):
And I understand that. Yeah. So we wanted to keep that field and say, well, actually to do that, should we loosen up? The, everybody has to be in the office side of that. So we'll be talking about, and to be honest, we, uh, we bought, we ought to do that. We'll be able to, you know, make sure everybody keeps on track so far. And then pandemic came along and that was it. We had to do it in a week. Um, and, uh, all credit to the team. We managed to have everybody out, even with all the highly complex work we did in the highly, highly complex computers. Everybody was out working from home and interacting within probably a couple of weeks.

Nick Weeks (40:54):
Yeah. And now we're nearly 18 months through that. Um, I can tell from being here today, that not everyone's back in the office five days a week, where do you think you're going to get to in terms of the right balance to get that collaboration and team

Mike Adams (41:11):
I'll say it'll be a hybrid. So we'll have some people, well, we do have some people who want to come. And so some people thrive on that person contact. Um, and some people thrive, not only in that being able to, um, just being able to focus on a particular technical problem and actually all the other stuff is just noise and actually they just want to focus on it. Um, and the other thing that we found is it was great in the first lockdown and everybody understood why it was happening. Uh, if Sonny, sorry, go to the daily community, I've got time, but is it absolutely brilliant. And then the second one is shearing down with Ray, how in wind, and actually you've been in your bedroom or wherever you're working for two years, it's, I'd fall off a bit as it expected. Um, so we, we saw more problems in the second holes, depending on which one you counts, see third, a locked down and suddenly started to get speed.

Mike Adams (42:20):
Um, but I think there's a balance in the middle. Yeah. Um, it's interesting when I go back to, as I said, we have been looking at it, one of the, in some of the more creative industries, what, uh, what we saw was, was that they had a combination where they would have, um, clusters of people there'll be somewhere to meet, but people would come and go, yeah. Okay. You've got this exciting project or something you have to get, [inaudible] hot, hands it for a couple of weeks, you're in the alphas, but then you go again, get space again. And then people come in and I think probably industries are more comfortable with, um, being able to manage people that way they can't see, uh, which is good. And it clearly the digital technologies are a lot better. Yes. Yeah. It would be interesting to see as we come out of this and the amount of bandwidth consumption draws, or whether some of those, those nines communications provably, because it's still a problem where you just don't get enough bandwidth, but I've seen that. That's just the nature of, um, bandwidth.

Nick Weeks (43:32):
Yeah. And it will change. Yeah. You always want, and plus one, basically. Yeah, yeah. No, that's, that's definitely a challenge. I mean, my personal feeling is that having that option for a bit of both is really important. There's definitely parts of your job, no matter what you do wear focus time when you can sit in a room concentrate and other people distracting is really important. And then there's times where you need to collaborate, but also everyone has different home lives as well. And actually being able to sit in a room and be quiet and think isn't always conducive at home. And sometimes it's easier to do it at work as well. So it, yeah. Giving people that, that, that those different options is, uh, uh, is an important part of it.

Mike Adams (44:15):
Yeah. That's the other thing that's come out of. It is it's got this, um, it's probably proved, I mean, a lot of companies doing this own, um, it's really proven the practicality of, of hiring, um, um, if you like interactive discussions across boundaries. So, um, sorry. Um, um, so it's proven that actually, so we work very closely with the team in Barcelona, for example, and we can do that. And it's as if we were talking on a team in London, so that's much easier. Uh, we have, um, conversations with people in the states and that works pretty easily. It was a bit more time different sense to deal with, but the actual communication is decidedly better than it was three years. Yes.

Nick Weeks (45:15):
Yeah. So it also brings us nicely to the, um, uh, the people side of it. You've talked about, uh, multi, uh, skilled engineers being a key part of what you, what you do. How do you find, uh, recruitment and developing, um, those sort of individuals and the skills that you need, um, for, for what you're trying to achieve? Um, it's changed.

Mike Adams (45:43):
So, um, when we started up, uh, we're pretty much the, any company work the way that we do, uh, um, now, um, there are more big, we want people in additive manufacturing, the competition for skills is high, and obviously it's very hard for any engineering company at the moment or manufacturing company in the moment to, to say that, um, conditions are good. Um, so, um, I think I'm probably obviously come back in a year.

Nick Weeks (46:17):
Yeah. Okay. Um,

Mike Adams (46:19):
But what would say is, I'll say I still think the industry, um, and your opportunities is a great place for young engineers to cut their teeth.

Nick Weeks (46:31):
And do you think that the course, the university or college courses available are, uh, developing the right skill sets to, to, to come into the industry? Or do you think they need to, uh, change the way in which that they're teaching today? I think

Mike Adams (46:50):
I have, I wouldn't say that, um, it's evident that the way that they, uh, teaching people or interacting is demonstrably wrong. I think that the reality of the industry is it lives in a world where, um, particularly what we do, we live in a world where there are lots of exciting things and some of those are easier. And, uh, some may argue that, uh, uh, there's an easier path to earning your living, um, than in the engineering and manufacturing. So, yeah, obviously, because of what I do, I spend a lot of time, um, talking to other people and how you get passionate and that kind of stuff. And you can look at where that money's going and weigh on people excited. Um, and, um, I wouldn't say it's the education, it's how we, we sell what we do. That's an opportunity as a people can see, um, a classic example is what do we do?

Mike Adams (47:57):
We make really complex technical parts that serve certain problems. Um, so in down there too fast, um, mechanical engineers, um, and so in there and say, well, I could do that over there. Hey, do that developing a new phone app or virtual reality or, um, whatever, uh, could be or finance and actually affect the bit that's messy is not necessarily the education process. It's the, um, presentation of the value and value that we create as an industry and the interest and satisfaction you get out of being in that space. So I put the problem then, rather than that, uh, the, um, um, if you like education process that has, for me, it's a bit of a, more of an excuse though.

Nick Weeks (48:58):
No, it's, uh, it's a really interesting, um, really interesting line of thought on, on that. And I think, um, one thing I've seen from the, the, the graduates who are coming out of university is that people are much have much more exposure to, um, the different disciplines of engineering. Now that then you would have, uh, 10, 15, 20 years ago. Uh, and they have a bit of exposure to a little bit of everything, as well as something deep and in one particular area, uh, which allows them to, when they get into their career, they can go in different directions. And just because they, they did mechanical design engineering at university doesn't mean they have to stay a mechanical design engineer and they will end up just moving into the direction that the industry or the company needs them and where their interest lies. And I think that's a potentially more exciting career than, uh, just being, um, uh, being boxed as a mechanical engineer or aerodynamics person for, uh, for the next 30 years. Yeah.

Mike Adams (50:02):
I think their own expectation of what they want is as changed as well. So while we talked to these guys and we do quite a lot of research and inspire, you know, sometimes they're thinking they're going to, they might have five or six grades and particular areas in which you can understand. Um, and actually, if you'd just seen about the pace of change that we just about in this conversation, you've spread that across. Um, people's lifetimes. It's massive. I think for an industry though, what we have to recognize is, um, that actually, although we, uh, we love to talk about having experienced people come and solve the problem. Most of the innovation comes from people in their early years. Hmm.

Nick Weeks (50:52):
Okay. That's interesting. And getting that the mix of the two together is often, um, exciting as well, and allowing, um, the, the thought processes from, uh, from both areas to, uh, to come through. Yeah. And that's great. So, um, I think we we've, we've had a, really, a really great chat staff and we've learned a lot about, um, what you guys are doing and some of your thoughts, maybe we could just finish with where, where do you see things going in the next sort of five years' time? You said you had a solid plan from sort of 2010 up to 20, 20, 20, 21. Do you have much of a plan and a vision for the next five, 10 years?

Mike Adams (51:34):
Some things will be harder because the world has to recover from what's happening. Um, but actually some things will be better. Okay. So in that, in that sense, I'm probably more excited than it could have been. It sounds bizarre. So it's, it's been a painful couple of years they'll work. Um, but actually what is forced us to do and forced opportunities on areas that we work in is to look harder and quicker at, uh, um, more, um, environmentally environmentally friendly, um, power systems and drive systems and energy systems, which is certainly a really interesting space for us. And that opportunity will grow because he can see what I would be saying is that it's people becoming less skeptical. They understand that need to move at pace, um, a lot more. And actually we're an industry that is almost, uh, and certainly where's the governor. He is designed to be quick. Um, and actually say it soon as that starts to filter out, people gave him more confidence in those markets, time to recovery, start to recover the opportunities to exploit that ability to be agile and move quickly, I was saying is really exciting.

Nick Weeks (53:04):
And that's something that, um, yeah, puts you in a really good resilient place for the future in whichever direction, uh, things, cause it could be other, uh, global scale changes that happen. And, and that ability to be agile is a key element of your resilience. Brilliant. Well, Mike, thank you very much for talking to this. It's been, um, fantastic to, to gain your insights and, um, um, I think we'll leave it there. Thank you very much. Cheers.

Outro (53:36):
Thanks very much to Mike Adams for participating in a PowderHeads episode. Super interesting to hear about their journey through the industry and especially how they've managed through the pandemic and lockdowns experienced in the UK. If you have questions or comments about what we discussed in this podcast PowderHeads, send them to powderheads@carpenteradditive.com 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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