Process over parts: Morf3D CEO Ivan Madera on solving the complexities of scaling AM

In 2013, Ivan Madera was looking for the next advancement in manufacturing technology. Having spent over two decades in management consulting in manufacturing and supply chain strategy, the would be-CEO came across additive manufacturing (AM) and immediately set about conceptualising a new company which would provide services to the aerospace and defence industry. “The rest,” the Morf3D founder and CEO tells TCT, “is history.”

Morf3D officially launched its strategy in 2015 with a view to help aerospace customers realise the potential for AM. Now a subsidiary of Nikon Corporation, if you walk into its facility today in El Segundo, California, you’ll find over half a dozen metal AM systems from the likes of EOS and SLM Solutions – including one of those huge 12-laser NXG XII 600 systems. “It’s completely packed,” Madera says, and just one of the reasons it’s expanding to a new 90,000 square feet purpose-built facility later this summer, doubling its existing capacity with room for five times that.

“The companies that we serve are mainly aerospace, defence and new space companies and those folks are really pushing the envelope on the technology side but also looking for larger format, machines and capacity,” Madera told TCT. “The NXG is basically going to open up that opportunity for them to expand into larger turbo machinery equipment for propulsion systems, etc. There’s obviously only so much I can say with the products that are going to be built on that. I would say the application space is really on the rocket engine type applications.”

Broadly speaking, legacy companies and new space is as far as Madera can share in terms of its clientele, such is the tight-lipped nature of the sector, but he can share some of the observations he’s made while working with such companies at all ends of the aviation spectrum, recently bolstered by a technology development partnership with Starburst Aerospace, a global aerospace accelerator which connects startups with corporates.

“Naturally, [new space companies] are moving a lot faster to get their products launched so they tend to move a lot quicker in terms of iteration and failing faster, and that’s where additive is offering them that opportunity,” Madera explained. “Whereas I would say old space is highly calculated – takes a lot longer, a lot more rigid, a lot more structure. But the reality is that the two shall meet. The controls and quality, repeatability, documentation, etc, will eventually catch up to the new space guys because at some point, you still have regulated products that you’re sending into space.”

Those necessary regulatory challenges have informed much of Morf3D’s DNA. Taking his years of manufacturing and supply chain experience, Madera has designed the company to focus more on process rather than printing.

“In my early days at Morf3D, I said ‘we don’t sell parts we sell processes,’” Madera elaborated. “We sell paper, a lot of paper.”

It’s clear Madera sees the company as more than a service to buy printed parts. The new Applied Digital Manufacturing Center (ADMC) will employ 150 multi-discipline engineers, research and technical staff, and bring in post-processing techniques like surface finishing and cleaning to complete that end-to-end value chain, while also leveraging an external network of providers. To serve those legacy customers, there’s also huge amounts of regulatory and compliance to adhere to, “things that you should be doing if you’re serving the aerospace and defence world,” Madera says, and earlier this year Morf3D secured its National Aerospace and Defense Contractors Accreditation Program (Nadcap) certification, making it one of just ten companies around the world with the certification for AM.

Morf3D is now in the process of packing up and moving 20 minutes down the road to Long Beach, ready for the launch of the ADMC, which will provide research, application development, serial production and leverage industry partnerships with the likes of Siemens to solve the complexities of scaling AM. If the business of Morf3D in the beginning wasn’t about parts, Madera says his vision for the ADMC going forward won’t just be about production either.

“Creating a certified production line is one thing but what if you had to replicate that and create multiple production lines to support different products? Can you sell a factory? And the answer is yes. And co-locating those factories next to your customers.”

Working with those industry partners is key, Madera says, to creating a scenario where if a manufacturer wants to scale its production from low volumes into the thousands, they can do so confidently, relying on the expertise the ADMC and its collaborators. Madera describes it as essentially an opportunity to “buy a factory”.

“It’s not just Morf3D doing this on its own, making parts,” Madera concluded. “It’s all of us collaborating to make a production system. That’s how the industrialisation of AM can take place.”

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