A conversation with Bob Gafvert, production partnership sales manager, Carbon

Bob Gafvert shared his perspective on what it takes to build out an additive approach, the challenges to tackle and the opportunities to consider during a recent webinar for the Manufacturers Association for Plastics Processors.

After watching additive manufacturing evolve – from his first experience in 1996 with an early machine that built starch and plaster models of castings, to his work with Carbon’s liquid resin technology in today’s $20 billion annual additive manufacturing market – Gafvert is convinced that the technology will continue to grow and dramatically impact the global economy. He views additive manufacturing, for many injection molders, as an add-on to the business model. “It’s going to complement the molding business,” he said. “It won’t replace it, it will complement it, especially at those lower volumes, similar to what EDM did for CNC thirty years ago. It didn’t replace the CNC, but it gave you more flexibility, more agility.”

As injection molders consider where additive manufacturing can add to their organizations, Gafvert believes industry members should dive into exploring why they want to join the additive culture, learning what additive technology options are available, and investigating how those various technologies can be implemented to expand their current book of business. This will be an iterative process, in which companies enlist management, sales and engineering to hash out the questions, identify possible answers and then circle back around with tentative choices to reevaluate the why, what and how.

Why do we want to do this?

To stand out. Gafvert stated that most molders seek to differentiate themselves from the competition. Some, he said, point to great on-time delivery, great quality and a fantastic engineering team. “But, aren’t those things just really expected?” Gafvert asked. “Isn’t that what is expected of a molder by their customer?” Offering a solid additive service might be an effective way to truly stand out.

To recapture lost business. Gafvert brought up the scenario in which a molder declines an order because the molder doesn’t have the particular press or piece of necessary secondary equipment to take a part to 100% completion. Additive might close the gap and turn around a lost sales opportunity.

To attract and engage the next generation. Per Gafvert, some manufacturers ask “How do we engage that next generation of engineers in the workforce? How do we capture the attention of those middle schoolers and high schoolers to show that there’s opportunity in manufacturing? And that manufacturing is cool?”

To be a stronger competitor. “Maybe you’ve lost to a competitor,” Gafvert said, “because they have some form of additive.” He noted that a number of automotive companies are looking at trimming their supplier base. In choosing which companies to cut, they are asking questions, such as “What are you doing with continuous improvement and technology to support us long-term?” Gafvert noted that manufacturers’ answers regarding additive capacity might be deal-makers or deal-breakers. “Are they going to make their supplier decisions based on who does have additive or another advanced technology, or who doesn’t?”

What technology should we get?

The choice of what type of additive technology to implement is a key consideration, and it often depends upon why additive is being evaluated. Will the technology only be used internally, or will it be implemented for end-use production parts? The “why” may dictate (or narrow down) the “what.”

“There are a lot of different technologies out there, and the choice really depends on what you are looking to do with it,” said Gafvert. “If you just want parts that look good, that you can use for prototyping and that aren’t functional, that’s going to steer you in one direction. If you are looking for something that has mechanical performance similar to injection molded parts, that’s going to steer you in a different direction.”

A manufacturer that needs to produce items composed of specific thermoplastics or having particular mechanical performance properties, for example, will find that these requirements narrow down the field of potential additive technologies.

With those desires and necessities in mind, a manufacturer might then take a multi-pronged approach to evaluating the various technologies. Gafvert threw out some examples. “We want to look at this for internal, then prototyping. Or we want to give our salespeople samples that they can go out with and differentiate themselves. Or from the far other side, we need performance production parts.”

Gafvert expanded on the idea of production use with several possible scenarios. “Hey, I’m looking to do production at scale; I not only need the form, I need the function.” “I want to go after a slice of business that, traditionally, I wouldn’t have even touched because the technology is different and it’s not on my production floor.” But he circled back to considering how the new technology will fit into an established company. “Can it complement not only my business but can it complement my margins? Is it another technology and another income stream that helps my business grow and differentiate?”

How do we make this fly?

Gafvert believes firmly in involving the sales team in the project of evaluating additive technologies, but notes that their enthusiasm must be tempered with practicality and the ability to deliver on quality.

“Oftentimes, when we are looking at growing our business and bringing in the new technology,” said Gafvert, “sales has ideas. But how are they going to be successful with this? How are they going to sell it? What type of sales team do you have?”

Salespeople are in a prime position to evaluate a potential additive technology, and to comment on their customer base and which customers are asking for such a technology. But there is more to it than that. “How do they fill that pipeline of prospects for something that you’ve never worked with before?” asked Gafvert. And it is important to factor how quickly the pipeline can be filled when looking to go beyond prototyping and into high-volume production. Gafvert reinforced the notion that quality always is key – making sure that parts meet expectations. “You don’t want to produce hundreds to thousands of parts,” he said, “and not have them meet expectations.”

For going deeper into conversation with salespeople, Gafvert suggested tapping the most trusted, effective and attuned sales staff for their insight. “Start talking to your salespeople,” he said. “What customers are going to want it? Medical. Okay, if we’re looking at medical, what medical companies have we never been able to get into? Maybe we are looking to shift our business to do more medical because that’s where the opportunities are now. Where do I find the new customers? What materials are going to work in medical?”

“Same thing for automotive,” continued Gafvert. “Do we have to have ULV0? Do we have to pass all the automotive standards? Is it going to pass some of the UV standards that are necessary? Is it going to be able to handle leather? Is it going to be able to perform mechanically year after year?”

Gafvert noted that additive opportunity exists within the consumer, electronic, healthcare, automotive, industrial and medical industries.

Making additive fly also depends on making space for it and having the manpower to operate it. Gafvert threw out questions in this arena as food for thought. “Are we looking for prototypes or low-volume production? Who is going to run it? Some technologies, you can just throw in with Engineering and they are pretty simple to do. That’s not necessarily the case when you are getting into production. Where are we going to put it? What do we have to do to build out for it? Am I simply just plugging it in and putting it on my engineer’s desk, or am I turning this into a showcase showroom? Am I putting this on the shop floor?”

What to do with those initial why, what and how questions and answers

With some of the questions identified and some possible answers imagined, Gafvert suggests recruiting the team to join the journey toward additive manufacturing.

At the entry-level end of the additive technology spectrum, Gafvert poses these types of questions: “If I have a simple printer on my desk, what does that allow me to do today?” “Can I use that for my automation team?” “Can I use that for my internal projects?” “Can I build fixtures with that?” “How can I make money with it outside of the efficiencies it gives me internally?”

At the production end of the additive technology spectrum, Gafvert suggests asking questions like these: “Can I sell these parts?” “What do I need to sell them for?” “What are the expectations that I need to meet?”

Every manufacturer’s exploration of additive manufacturing technologies is unique, and the time required for the journey will vary. “Probably the fastest that I have seen people bring this in, from an injection molding standpoint, from start to installation is about two to three months,” he said. “I have been having conversations with people for much longer than that though, so typically it is nine months to a year.”

Regardless of whether the goal is to implement additive technology for internal use only, or for prototyping, low-volume or high-volume production, Gafvert believes that the same basic questions apply. “Somebody needs to understand the applications, the opportunities, the mechanical properties and the barriers. And somebody needs to be able to sell those parts.”

On April 1 and 2, 2020, MAPP hosted its Virtual Learning Summit 2020. The Summit featured six webinar sessions, including “Additive Manufacturing: Vision for Molders” by Bob Gafvert. Gafvert is production partnership sales manager at Carbon, the Redwood City, California, digital manufacturing company that offers Digital Light Synthesis™. Prior to joining Carbon, Gafvert worked in manufacturing for 25 years. He began working with machine shops and job shops, then with moldmakers and, most recently, in leading sales and marketing for an injection molder.

More information: www.carbon3d.com