Since its establishment in 2006, Lubeck-based SLM Solutions Group AG has been in a solid leading position in the additive manufacturing industry, especially in the field of industrial metal 3D Printing. As the company name suggests, SLM Solutions focuses on laser selective melting technology and provides a wide range of metal additive manufacturing system products, including SLM®125, SLM®280 production series, SLM®280 2.0, SLM®500 and SLM®800. Today, SLM Solutions has entered the world including aviation, automotive, energy, mold, medical and dental industries, and has more than 400 employees in Germany, China, Austria, France, Italy, the United States, Singapore, Russia and India . In March 2019, SLM Solutions announced the change of leadership, including General Electric veteran Meddah Hadjar on the executive board and appointed him as the company’s new CEO. Meddah Hadjar officially took office as CEO on May 1. He has a deep background in product manufacturing, mechanical engineering, and of course additive manufacturing. Interestingly, the former general manager of GE Additive’s laser products business (two years in office) has an aerospace background, which is one of the main target industries of SLM Solutions and a major beneficiary of metal additive manufacturing technology. Meddah Hadjar accepted an interview with 3dpbm. In the interview, he talked about his new position at SLM Solutions and how the aviation industry and applications affect the company’s continued development of metal additive manufacturing. 3dpbm: Mr. Meddah Hadjar, can you introduce your background?
Meddah Hadjar: Before joining SLM Solutions, I worked at General Electric for more than 20 years and played many different roles. Most of the time I was in the general aviation department, but I also worked for the oil, gas and power departments, and later served as General Electric. The head of the laser business of the additive company. So far, I have been working for SLM Solutions for nearly two months, and it has been an amazing journey. I am exploring the complete technical profile and production capabilities of SLM Solutions. We are now working on a plan to get the company back to where we want it to be. 3dpbm: How does your experience at General Electric Additives help your new position?
Meddah Hadjar: General Electric has been in contact with metal additive manufacturing for a long time and is the first beneficiary of additive manufacturing technology, so I already have a certain understanding of additive technology before joining the additive manufacturing department. The two years I spent there really helped me to see the various applications and technologies in this industry, and also understand the competitive challenges of the additive market and the development direction of the technology, and know what needs to be improved in order to make the additive manufacturing technology. Become the mainstream and achieve popularization. I already know where the technology is, where the industry is, and more importantly, because of my experience in the aviation industry, I know who the majority of users are. So coming to SLM Solutions is a natural change. 3dpbm: Are there any significant differences between the two companies?
Meddah Hadjar: SLM Solutions is a public company, so there are differences in how we invest in products and focus on major investors. GE Additives is a non-listed company that belongs to the General Electric Group, so they operate in very different ways. From the perspective of technology and development, there are also differences between the two. We see different challenges because the development teams of these technologies focus on different roadmaps, but it is undoubtedly exciting to be able to witness the next scientific research and development of SLM Solutions. I am happy to say that I am very satisfied with the technology and development of SLM Solutions. 3dpbm: As the CEO of SLM Solutions, what are your main goals?
Meddah Hadjar: For the past two weeks, I have been meeting with investors in Frankfurt, London and the United States. Everyone has high expectations and enthusiasm for the company’s goals. We will discuss this issue further in August. Now, we are very focused on operating the company in different ways, managing the company with discipline and responsibility, and trying to speed up our product launches. 3dpbm: How important is the aerospace industry to SLM Solutions’ business?
Meddah Hadjar: My background is in the aerospace industry. My bachelor’s and master’s degrees are also in aerospace. I started working at GE Aviation, which was known as the General Aviation Engine Department at the time. Relatively speaking, I am biased towards aviation because I love aviation and I know it well. Currently, additive manufacturing is the main technology that helps the aerospace industry overcome major challenges in terms of performance, weight, and cost. Traditional manufacturing has many limitations, which restrict the development of the aerospace industry, and the cost for enterprises is very high. SLM Solutions pays great attention to this market because it is very critical: this is the first industry to benefit from additive manufacturing. At the same time, the development of additive manufacturing will also promote the significant growth of the industry, which is a win-win situation.
3dpbm: Can you elaborate on how SLM Solutions’ technology meets the strict requirements of the aerospace industry?
Meddah Hadjar: It is vital for us to manufacture parts that meet industry requirements for our customers. These requirements include material properties, fatigue properties, stress, and the overall quality of the final part. Taking a step back, the parts manufactured by additive technology are still highly comparable at least compared with existing parts. If we look at the technology on the market today, the parts we produce use a multi-laser configuration-either two or four. In both cases, our equipment can produce higher quality parts than the same type of equipment with only one laser. This allows our equipment to produce parts with higher productivity and lower cost than single laser system equipment. I think this is a growing trend: multi-laser printing is the key to the development and wide application of this technology. For us, further improving our printing speed and equipment reliability is an important requirement at the moment. 3dpbm: Which SLM system is the most popular in aerospace applications?
Meddah Hadjar: In today’s industry, SLM®500 is a leader in the aerospace industry. Our competitors’ equipment also has other applications in the aerospace field, but from a productivity point of view, our SLM®500 system can use four lasers to print parts, which gives us a great advantage. I have not seen any other competitors do this in this area. And, as we recently announced, Rolls-Royce has just purchased the SLM®500 four-laser system, which will be used to explore aerospace applications. 3dpbm: In the aerospace sector, which field is of most interest to you? For example: aerospace, civil aviation, commercial aviation, national defense?
Meddah Hadjar: For us, we are very interested in all these areas, but they have different scale requirements. For example, if you look at civil aviation and commercial aviation, they are both very attractive from the perspective of volume and scale. If you look at national defense or space applications, this will be another aspect, the size requirements will be relatively lower, but SLM technology has advantages in design applicability and cost reduction. You have also seen that SLM technology can be adopted faster than civil aviation, aerospace and defense. 3dpbm: What are the main challenges currently facing in meeting the needs of the aerospace industry?
Meddah Hadjar: In order to better help our customers, we-the additive manufacturing industry-largely need to improve our equipment to meet a very strict industry requirements. What I mean is that our equipment needs to have a certain degree of reliability and a higher degree of industrialization than the machines on the market today. Another thing that can help the aerospace industry meet the challenges is to provide equipment with higher productivity and larger printing platforms. The molding size you see in the additive manufacturing industry today restricts its application in the aerospace industry, so this is a challenge for us, to solve this by producing equipment with a larger processing platform and higher productivity problem. 3dpbm: What do you think of the development prospects of additive manufacturing in the aviation field in ten years?
Meddah Hadjar: This is a very interesting technology that is evolving very fast, but I think the important thing is not to set wrong expectations. I think we will see this market continue to grow, but I think there is still controversy about the expectations of this market. How we view this technology will depend on how far we can push it. In general, we hope to see more comprehensive value—vertical and horizontal—we are focusing on software, materials, multi-laser power, larger construction platforms, artificial intelligence sensors…There is still a lot of work to be done. This technology is still very young and requires a lot of work to make this industry fully automated. In general, what I want to say is that within 10 years, our vision is to have a fully automated, fully independent production industry.
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