GE Additive run us through Arcam AB’s history, working environment & share a look into what’s to come
“GE is incredibly serious about Additive Manufacturing as a business and what it means to be a world-class leader in the industry.” From the outset, Jason Oliver, CEO & Vice-President of GE Additive quickly set the tone for our tour.
Following such a strong statement, we couldn’t help but be more attentive to what we were about to discover, as in the end, one reason that explained our presence at Arcam EBM Center of Excellence on that day, was to appreciate the veracity of this statement for its true worth.
2016, an important milestone for Arcam AB
Founded in 1997, when TIG arc welding of metal powder was a major innovation in the industry, Arcam reached a significant turning point in its history when it has been acquired by GE.
At the time, the inventor of electron beam melting machines for metal-based additive manufacturing was based in Mölndal, Sweden. GE’s controlling ownership of Arcam stock has enabled the multinational conglomerate to influence Arcam and its development.
August 2019: GE Additive announced the opening of its Arcam EBM Center of Excellence in Gothenburg, Sweden. Located at the Mölnlycke Business Park - southeast of Gothenburg – the 16,700 square meter facility triples the floor space of Arcam EBM’s previous site in Mölndal.
The previous tenant, a 2D Printing company, completely moved out its last production machines at the end of October 2018.
The facility, therefore, underwent a complete transformation. The new building welcomed the first team members in June 2019 and the production and logistics teams followed over in early December 2019.
“Having a new facility gives you the chance to change and improve efficiency & quality”, said Oliver.
In a few words, the new building comprises several areas: the visitor welcoming area, the education centre that includes a dressing room, a convivial space for lunches, breaks, formal and informal meetings, as well as various meeting & conference rooms, the practical training area, the additive test centre, the R&D lab, an open space office environment including private workrooms, meeting rooms, software lab, electronics lab, prototyping room, and a big manufacturing/production area.
7,100 m2 of the process areas are currently exploited. The company plans to further improve the working environment of the staff with the creation of other spaces including creative environments.
Throughout the tour, 4 key features stood out as especially noteworthy:
Safety is important both for technology and employees.
Indeed, safety equipment is required to protect operators from exposure to anything that might dangerously affect their health.
Special precautions have been taken in key areas that we visited, starting from the practical training area. In this area, the company holds theoretical lessons on technology with its customers. However, whenever they have to carry out a specific exercise with the additive manufacturing systems, they have to wear safety equipment.
The production area and the R&D lab are other environments where safety equipment is mandatory. On the walls at the entrance of these zones, one could read the rules of safety and conduct that apply to each space. Furthermore, we identified the safety equipment (shoes, clothes, gloves, etc.) used by operators at specific corners of these zones. Apart from confidentiality reasons, it wasn’t possible to enter some rooms because we did not have that required equipment.
As far as technology is concerned, the manufacturing process is subject to strict regulations due to the safety requirements of machines and materials.
The hazards of materials, for instance, do not only increase regulatory pressure, but they also lead to a sustainability commitment by manufacturers that must deliver safer AM materials. In that regard, to eliminate the risk of environmental contamination (e.g. groundwater leakage, air pollution) or contamination with more reactive materials, materials must be treated in accordance with strict environmental regulations.
2- Possibilities for cross-cooperation
The quintessence of today’s technology advancements leads to new types of cross-cooperation within companies.
At GE Additive Arcam EBM, this cross-cooperation is seen at three levels:
- The working environment
- The type of profile that works in the company
- The cross-border cooperation
The working environment
Open-plan offices prevail at GE Additive Arcam EBM. They are designed to stimulate productivity and collaboration, not to mention that they help with networking.
Interestingly, this new configuration is valid for almost all employees including the management team. This means that not only everyone is on the same level, but employees are easily included in important decisions and projects.
However, the need for quieter spaces and private workrooms is also met for those who perform best when it’s quiet or in their own space. For obvious reasons, the staff from the R&D department has their own office.
The type of profile that works for the company
Arcam AB is 23 years old. The company has evolved and still evolves with distinct generations. While this could have led to conflicts, Arcam AB has managed to capitalize on workforce diversity.
“Having all the resources in one technology also passes by young people. As a young entrepreneurial company, technology fascinates us. Our employees can develop and feel they are part of this journey”, explained GE Additive Arcam EBM Karl Lindblom.
“We have been able to transform the way the world sees technology thanks to our multi-faceted team. One thing I realized when I started at Arcam EBM is that there is still a lot be made and our engineers are feeling that. More importantly, to make our vision a reality, each engineer has more than one competence. You will not find an engineer here that specializes in one core competence”, stated Annika Ölme - Vice President of product management at GE Additive Arcam EBM.
The cross-border cooperation
In almost every company that strives to build a seat in this industry –, the daily work is increasingly done with people who are across the company borders. Everyday routines might include interactions with customers, suppliers, and even universities across the world.
Taking the example of how the company handles the shipments across the world, Karl Lindblom explained that 1/3 of products are shipped towards Europe - mainly in Italy -, 1/3 in Asia and 1/3 in the USA.
3- Growth opportunities
Growth opportunities are not only perceived through the possibilities that employees have within the company, but also in the way the company evolves with its customers.
Let’s take the example of a training session for instance: almost every week, a training session is carried out at GE Additive Arcam EBM in Sweden. Such a session enables Arcam EBM’s teams to work on specific projects afterwards with their customer or to point out new challenges they have to address.
More importantly, be it at the facility – in the working environment – or within the company itself, there are still new areas that need to be developed. Speaking of the working environment, the company mentioned the need to arrange more creative spaces for the staff.
Regarding technology, automation is the next issue to address – automation in the way AM systems are handled. “We might expect more output and even turnkey solutions in that regard, in the next couple of years”, announced Karl Lindblom.
4- “The wealth factor”
GE has invested $18 million in its Gothenburg-based Centre of Excellence. If everything has been well-thought to enable the whole team to innovate within the company, this new environment is also designed to inspire customers. And that’s something that can easily be felt from the entrance.
What it means to be part of GE
Since its acquisition of the Swedish company, GE had announced the site would “increase machine production capacity and allow for a more collaborative set-up within the company; uniting logistics, research and development, services and operations.” So far, all these expectations have been met.
“Having an industrial owner is a great chance as they understand us as a company”, said Karl Lindblom, General Manager GE Additive Arcam EBM. Indeed, an industrial owner will not only understand the needs of an Additive Manufacturing company, as a user, it is also uniquely positioned to push forward the technology. That’s why Arcam EBM can deliver a competitive platform and dedicated technology.
More importantly, having an industrial owner also requires that Arcam EBM relies on a strong operating model. After our tour of the company, there is no doubt that GE Additive truly focuses on Lean Manufacturing principles.
As stated by the key factors of these principles, GE Additive Arcam EBM is now uniquely positioned to identify the value stream for each product, to make value flow without interruptions, to determine the ROI of customers while enabling them to shift from prototyping to additive manufacturing for serial production, and pursue perfection.
From a technology perspective, GE Additive Arcam EBM is ready to meet the needs in existing industries and new industries. In the automotive industry, for instance, the challenges raised by electrification and additive manufacturing are more and more crucial. The GE Additive company is now capturing the business opportunities offered by its customers in that field.
At present, only a limited number of manufacturers specialize in EBM Technology. While others would have been afraid of competition, we have been impressed by a company that welcomes new competitors on this market. If this demonstrates confidence it has in its resources, it will also enable it to keep its leading position in this additive manufacturing segment.
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