USA & Canada
USA & Canada

Aerospace is on a 3D printing binge. Our expert explains why.

aaron pearson
Aaron Pearson March 24, 2020
March 24, 2020

Scott Sevcik joined Stratasys five years ago and has been at the forefront of helping manufacturing – and aerospace in particular – to embrace 3D printing throughout the product lifecycle. Last month, he was named VP of the company’s aerospace business segment.

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What’s one thing we don’t know about you?

I have the great distinction of coming from the same home town as SPAM – Austin, Minnesota.

The “meat” that transformed the world! Now you’re helping transform aerospace. How did your eight years at Lockheed Martin after college prepare you for your work at Stratasys?

Lockheed Martin is a fantastic company. The company culture balances pushing extreme innovation boundaries with the utmost insistence on safety and performance. One mantra that stuck with me is “test like you fly.” That’s the way the aerospace industry needs to work. You need to push boundaries and make major innovative steps forward, but risk must be managed and controlled because people’s lives often depend on mission success. So much of that comes down to the individuals making decisions.  Helping them have confidence that their risks are mitigated or controlled is key to helping them take those innovative steps forward.

And then you decided to go from industry giant to scrappy Stratasys?

Well actually, we had a family debate at Christmas in 2013 because there was a news story about a pizza chain planning to deliver pizza by drone. So our debate was whether we’d be eating drone-delivered pizza or 3D-printed pizza first. I sided with 3D-printed pizza, as I had recently used 3D printing to help accelerate a program schedule at work and was high on the value it offered. A few months later, my sister sent me a job posting for aerospace business development at Stratasys, basically as a joke. It was no joke to me: I was on the phone with a Stratasys recruiter two days later. It turned out to be a perfect role for me.  Stratasys was seeing growth in aerospace and wanted to hire from the industry to capitalize on the pull they were seeing. My role was to help Stratasys understand why aerospace was interested and what they needed, and help the industry understand what Stratasys could do for them. Going back to the family debate that put me on this path, I’d probably change my position now. Maybe the pizza won’t be 3D printed, but I think the drone, or at least parts of it, will be.

That growth in aerospace continues. What has made aerospace and 3DP such a great fit?

I see two factors. The first is the industry’s inclination toward innovation. Some look at aerospace and see a slow-moving industry that takes years to qualify a new technology and a decade or more to launch a new product. In fact, the entire industry has gone from an idea in a bike shop for a heavier-than-air-powered glider to rovers on Mars and 200 people on a single aisle aircraft taking off every 20 seconds somewhere in the world 24 hours a day, all in the span of a little more than 100 years. So, there’s these long development cycles, but each one takes a huge technological step forward. It’s the ultimate example of “go slow to go fast.” Because of the leaps they take, they tend to invest in the most promising revolutionary technologies. 

The other factor is quantity. The fastest-running aircraft manufacturing plants have a pace of 50-60 a month, compared to cars running in the thousands per month.  These lower quantities don’t get the cost savings you get in amortizing tooling costs across thousands or millions of parts.  As a result, you can often make tools faster or less expensively by 3D printing them. Or you can potentially eliminate the tool entirely by printing the part. And once you are able to print your parts, you can stock your spare part inventory digitally and wait to print the part you need rather than fill warehouses with spares that are invariably in the wrong place and in the wrong quantities. 

Do you see future 3D printing growth in aerospace in new areas?

I think there are still opportunities for significant growth even in areas that some in the aerospace industry have been implementing for years. For instance, we see some segments within the industry that extensively use 3D printing for factory floor tools, ranging from simple fixtures to highly complex composite layup molds. Yet meanwhile, we see organizations that haven’t even thought about printed tools yet. 

Of course the long term focus for many in the industry is the flight parts themselves. There are getting to be a lot of FDM parts flying, from A350s to the Atlas V rocket to NASA satellites, and other vehicles that we’re not even allowed to disclose, but it’s still early. We’ll see OEMs taking greater advantage of the freedom to design more elegant parts that are lighter weight and consolidate assemblies in ways that are only possible with additive manufacturing. We’ll see completion centers creating truly customized one-off parts for an aircraft interior. And MROs will move more spare parts towards digital inventory.

It must be fun to see how things have evolved since you started at Stratasys.

My first time at the Paris Air Show for Stratasys was in 2015. We had this huge announcement about Airbus flying more than a thousand printed parts on the first few A350s in order to meet their production schedule. I remember saying at that time that we’d know we were succeeding when a thousand parts was a non-story, but in 2015 it was incredibly novel to think that actual airplane parts were being 3D printed. Four years later, we are still making announcements about new adopters, like Diehl Aviation and Marshall, and new partnerships, like our extended agreement with Boom Supersonic, but the tone has changed. Stratasys is an aerospace supplier, not just a 3D printing company in the corner that had one big aerospace win. The highlight for me is how we have shifted into a more mainstream and accepted supplier in the industry.

What factors have contributed to that acceptance?  

Aerospace customers are looking for partners that can deliver mature and repeatable capability. They are also looking for partners that speak their language and understand the criticality and quality requirements of the aerospace industry. We frequently hear from our customers how many companies in this space just don’t get what it takes to put a part on a plane. They really value our transparency and willingness to share and collaborate. More than anything, though, they are looking for a partner that’s going to listen to them and accept guidance in shaping our future roadmap.

Finally, how are your own 3D printing skills going? Have you successfully 3D printed some things here in the office?

Absolutely. I’m a novice, but I’ve used both our easy-to-use GrabCAD Print as well as our highly controllable Insight software for the Fortus line. When I moved into a new office a while back, I found my door wouldn’t stay open. I fired up GrabCAD Print, and had a door stop off an F370 in our office before the end of the day.

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