Additive Manufacturing (AM), a soon to be $20B+ industry, has emerged as a faster and cleaner alternative to traditional manufacturing, where companies are able to take a product from prototype to production in considerably less time and in spaces that appear more like small medical labs than shop floors. And while AM applications can be found across many industries, the Automotive and Aviation industries have embraced the innovation, time-to-value, and sustainability aspects of AM that have quickly changed the manufacturing paradigm.
We’d like to thank Brian Neff for sitting down with us to share his background and insights into the rapidly expanding Additive Manufacturing industry and how Sustainability is reshaping this exploding market.
How did you get started in Additive Manufacturing and what part has Sustainability played in your career?
When I became aware of additive manufacturing back in 2011, one of the areas that most attracted me was the improvement in sustainability that it offered over traditional manufacturing methods. Holy cow! You mean you can manufacture much more cleanly and with less waste? And the parts you make can be optimized for weight savings and performance? That just blew me away.
But commercial aviation has historically done a very poor job in prioritizing sustainability, and now we are seeing the fruits of that neglect in the form of flight shame and in the debate, started last summer, on the moral appropriateness of flying.
As someone who loves the commercial aviation industry, I am glad that AM is here as a tool to improve sustainability and combat flight shame—but now it is a question of the speed of adoption. That is what we are trying to do at Sintavia and with the Additive Manufacturer Green Trade Association.
Tell us about your background. It sounds like you have a deep understanding of the aviation industry.
I am a third generation commercial aviation person. My grandfather was the Vice President of Maintenance for TWA and spent his entire career there. My dad held a number of executive positions at various commercial airlines before starting out as an aviation entrepreneur thirty years ago. I guess it was some sort of family destiny for me to continue in this industry.
In terms of your prospects and customers, how important is it that your company is sustainable? Do you see it as a competitive advantage, and do you have any examples that reflect that advantage?
It certainly is important for us to lead by example, which is why we are proud members of the GBB. When we compare ourselves as an industry with traditional methods of manufacturing, such as casting, we need to always walk the talk.
As far as a competitive advantage, prioritizing sustainability in how we market to our customers is absolutely an advantage. So far this year we have seen a huge increase in funds and financial institutions that are prioritizing ESG investing on a multi-billion dollar scale. This is a growing trend, and investors will increasingly prioritize companies that (a) operate sustainably and (b) promote sustainable solutions like AM.
How important is sustainability within your supply chain, and how do you evaluate current or future partners regarding sustainability?
Within the AM supply chain (printers, powders, and gases) it is very important. Our raw AM technology partners are totally aware of the sustainable benefits of AM and extremely focused on promoting it. On the aerospace side (machine shops, etc.) it is also a focus as part of our supplier onboarding process.
One of the advantages of additive manufacturing besides less waste, is less space in that your facilities can be quite small compared to traditional manufacturing environments. Given that you work primarily in the aviation industry – an industry where a bill of materials could be tens of thousands of parts per unit – how do you scale without running into more traditional manufacturing challenges?
We have a well-defined future expansion plan to meet our customers’ demands. Clearly one area that is common among additive and traditional manufacturers is scaling growth (especially rapid growth) successfully, but we feel that the ability to go “upstream” in process consolidation (i.e., to combine multiple steps through AM) reduces overall manufacturing process footprint. The fewer steps needed, the less of a manufacturing footprint you need, so your manufacturing displacement is lower. Again, this is another great advantage of AM.
In your Tedx presentation, you talked about an aviation case study whereby Sintavia reengineered a small part of an aircraft, which led to a fully 3D generated part that was stronger and more durable than the original part. You also mentioned some staggering improvements in fuel efficiency and fuel cost savings based on single gram reductions in overall aircraft weight. How has the Aerospace & Defense industry responded to the concepts and applications of Additive Manufacturing?
Aerospace is an industry with a very long development cycle, so we are only just now seeing the real-world impact of AM on OEM supply chains. Initially, this is in replacing traditionally manufactured parts with additively manufactured ones—if there’s a hole in an aircraft a replacement part has to fit exactly in order to work. However, the next generation of aircraft and engines are going to be where we see huge improvements in weight savings and fuel burn thanks to additive manufacturing. Look for these to really come on line in the latter half of this decade.
You recently announced the creation of the Additive Manufacturing Green Trade Association – congratulations! How large do you anticipate the association to be in the next few years and what do you hope to achieve with that platform besides awareness and education about the benefits of Additive Manufacturing?
The purpose of the AMGTA is really to raise awareness of the environmental benefits of additive manufacturing—among key industry players, suppliers, and the public in general. So many people I have spoken to have no idea not only what AM is, but also why it is so much better. We felt this message would be best coming from a non-profit, unaffiliated trade group. Our goal is to sponsor research to support our claims and really spread the word. So far, interest has been greater than we expected. We have only recently hired the Executive Director for the group, and really started the membership drive process. We have big expectations!
We see employee engagement as a significant opportunity and driver for sustainability within most organizations, and Sintavia appears to have a genuine sustainability culture. How important is sustainability to your employees?
Our company is very young in terms of median age—for sure it is under 30. For the younger adult generations in particular, sustainability is extremely important, so there has been great feedback to what we have been doing.
I am always amazed at how discerning young adults are in wanting to understand where their goods are coming from, how they are getting there, and where they are going after they are used, and then making consumer choices based on that data. That is really why the commercial aviation industry has to get in front of the flight shame phenomenon, and AM is a great tool to do that and to show the public that something is being done.
What’s an example of something Sintavia now does in a more sustainable way that has had the biggest impact to your bottom line?
Well, one of the great benefits of AM is the ability to reuse metal powder after a print job. Sintavia has developed proprietary powder reuse and handling parameters for the alloys in which we print—nickel, titanium, and aluminum—which allows for maximum utilization of any remaining powder after a print job. This has saved us a lot of money over the past several years.
How has your collaboration with the Green Business Bureau and your Platinum Green Certification impacted your organization?
We are strong supporters of the GBB and have used their sustainability framework across Sintavia. Demonstrating our commitment to sustainability along with being able to point out and articulate our achievement is most definitely an area that customers look for when they audit us. And when we’re working with other companies and business partners, we too are looking for the same.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Additive Manufacturing allows us to do what no other traditional manufacturer can do – manufacture more environmentally friendly parts in a more environmentally friendly way. The industry is rapidly accelerating and is projected to be a $20B+ industry in the next few years. Sintavia is very well positioned, and the future is bright.
Brian, thank you so much for sitting down with the Green Business Bureau. We’re proud of our association and partnership with Sintavia, and we wish you nothing but the best.
It has been my pleasure! Thank you, GBB.
About Brian Neff, CEO
Mr. Neff founded Sintavia, an advanced manufacturer focused primarily on the Aerospace & Defense industry, in 2012 after working with metal additive manufacturing at CTS Engines, a jet engine MRO he acquired in 2010. Prior to CTS, Brian was the President of Southern Air from 2007 to 2009, and its CFO from 2003 to 2007. Brian holds a BA from Dartmouth College and an MBA from Columbia Business School.
Sintavia is the first independent manufacturer of its kind to offer a vertically integrated, end-to-end metal additive manufacturing production process that meets aerospace production quality standards. Sintavia’s precision metal components are produced more efficiently than traditional casting and forging technologies, with a greatly reduced environmental impact.
Sintavia has been a member of the Green Business Bureau since 2018 and has earned the coveted Platinum level of Certification.