January 31, 2022
In our inaugural Member Spotlight, Sherry Handel, Executive Director of the Additive Manufacturer Green Trade Association (AMGTA) interviews Björn Hannappel, Head of Sustainability at EOS Group and Donnie Vanelli, President at Advanced Laser Materials (ALM), a wholly owned subsidiary of EOS Group.
Björn Hannappel is the Head of Sustainability at EOS – a leading supplier for responsible manufacturing solutions via industrial 3D printing technology. Björn is responsible for driving the sustainability agenda and strategy of the company. The purpose of EOS is to accelerate the transition towards Responsible Manufacturing. His focus is both on internal projects to increase transparency and reduce carbon emissions as well as on external projects to support EOS’ customers achieving their own sustainability targets.
Donnie Vanelli is Chief Operating Officer for EOS North America. In this role, Donnie oversees the execution of day-to-day operations at EOS to ensure EOS’ broader business strategy is met. Most notably, Donnie supports the development and subsequent delivery to the market of new materials for powder bed additive manufacturing. Donnie is also co-founder and president of Advanced Laser Materials (ALM), a leading provider of custom material solutions for the additive manufacturing industry.
Björn, in your role to drive the development and implementation of Responsible Manufacturing at EOS, what has been your greatest challenge and how are you addressing it?
Björn: First of all, I am not sure if there is the ONE biggest challenge. For me there are rather a couple of challenges that all need to be addressed in order to be successful establishing Responsible Manufacturing as the new normal.
Two topics I would like to pick as examples. First, there are so many ideas in my team, the leadership team, and the whole company on what to do and how to get there. Ideas for a strategy, ideas for projects, ideas for new green products, for internal improvements and external positioning, for KPIs and reporting and so on. And they all are valid and important. BUT with limited resources you have to focus on what is the most important part to start with. And you have to have a roadmap in mind what will follow step by step. Our approach was to start working on the sustainability strategy and KPIs but at the same time also implementing sustainability projects with customers. In addition, we created a cross-regional and cross-functional sustainability team to be able to multiply our impact across the organization. A positive side effect of this is that colleagues are taking over responsibilities for sustainability in their respective areas of work. This is important as sustainability can only be achieved if it is an integral part of everything you do in an organization.
A second challenge that comes to mind is that there are quite a few general assumptions out there about how sustainable AM is as a technology. The challenge I see here is that for some of the assumptions we do not have enough proof points or data. And although my personal believe is that AM has a huge potential with regards to a more sustainable production, we also need to create data to prove that. That’s why we did two scientific studies last year and we are planning to do more this year.
EOS made an early-on commitment to join the AMGTA as our first Participating Member company in June 2020 in efforts to support the advancement of sustainability in the AM industry. How has EOS’ involvement as an AMGTA member benefited EOS?
Björn: For us AMGTA came exactly at the right time. It was shortly after I started my role at EOS and we were looking for other companies in our industry to jointly drive the topic of sustainability. So joining the AMGTA right from the beginning was something very natural for us. I believe that working towards a more sustainable world is not only an obligation for every company itself, but we can achieve more if we are working together with our customers, suppliers, and peers.
There is still a lot that needs to be accomplished to generate relevant data, use case examples, and, in general, a better understanding of what role AM plays to achieve its ‘green potential’ and for EOS to accelerate our transition towards Responsible Manufacturing.
AMGTA provides a neutral basis to jointly drive the sustainability development of our industry, to network with like-minded companies and to kick-off more relevant and needed research in this area.
What were the key takeaways from your participation as a Formnext speaker on the AMGTA hosted “Sustainability and Additive Manufacturing” panel discussion?
Björn: First of all, thanks again that you invited us to join the panel! I guess one of the key take-aways for me was that there was quite a lot of interest for the topic and our panel specifically. I remember all seats were taken and people were standing in the corridors around us. It’s great to see that more and more companies and people from the AM industry see sustainability as an important topic.
Secondly, I had the impression that the audience not only was very interested to hear what the AMGTA is doing and how some of their member companies are driving the topic of sustainability. You could tell by the questions that were asked that there is a better understanding of the topic than where we were two years ago. And that’s good!
At the same time, it still feels like our industry is at the very beginning of this journey. So, it is even more important to come together and learn from each other. And the AMGTA is one of those opportunities to come together.
Donnie, Advanced Laser Materials (ALM), an EOS company, recently announced its new Carbon Neutral polymer powder. How did EOS/ALM come to the decision to introduce this new product and why?
Donnie: ALM specializes in developing custom powders for powder bed additive manufacturing. Sustainability, in particular of plastics, is a huge topic in our industry right now and there are many efforts within EOS and ALM currently on the subject. However, we recognized within ALM that we could quickly introduce a first product to help energize our overall sustainability program and also begin pulling customers and applications into closer discussions with our teams. And, I think this is the critical element around sustainability – it is not just the material, but we have to work with customers around applications to look at the entire chain and process for producing and delivering end parts, so sparking these types of in depth conversations early with customers is really important.
What feedback have you received from customers and the industry?
Donnie: Since we first announced publicly our efforts at Formnext 2021, the number of customers and material partners reaching out to us has been really encouraging. The interest level in sustainable solutions is honestly higher than we might have expected. It is also very interesting how quickly these conversations with customers go to a very deep level around not just raw material, but how we might work together to improve part design, our laser sintering process parameters, as well as post-processing of parts from our machines. This is a common activity for EOS with our Additive Minds engineering teams, who engage customers to help them transform applications from traditional manufacturing methods to additive manufacturing. Supporting customers in sustainability and life cycle analysis for AM will now be an additional effort and focus of our engineering teams.
How does the powder become carbon neutral? Can you please describe the process to get there?
Donnie: It is really a combination of looking at the entire production stream. For the powder we just released, the 802-CF, this material is a carbon fiber reinforced nylon-11 (polyamide). The nylon-11 is sourced from Arkema, who also have invested heavily in sustainability. The nylon-11 is a castor-bean based polymer compared to other petroleum-based polymers and there is a whole program around sustainable farming of castor beans, which is also externally certified. We have investigated the packaging, the shipping of raw materials, as well as our production of the final blended products for AM at our site. We are offsetting our internal energy use through installing solar power at the site where the final material is produced. We buy carbon credits to offset not only the residual carbon footprint of any supplier components coming to us that they have not already offset, but also the shipping emissions to take the material all the way from our door to our customers’ doors. For that piece, we’ve invested in high quality carbon credits from the international NGO MyClimate.
Last question to both of you: What are your plans for Responsible Manufacturing in 2022?
Donnie: We have several plans for pushing Responsible Manufacturing in 2022 and beyond. In terms of products, we will be launching more materials complete with life cycle analysis. We are also aggressively preparing to commercialize materials and process improvements on our printers that reduce material waste. When combined with the ability to manufacture just in time inventory with our printers, you approach a much more sustainable goal of producing only what the end customer will actually use. Furthermore, we are looking at several downstream processes, for example re-collecting or re-purposing used material or parts.
Björn: However, Responsible Manufacturing for us is not just supporting our customers externally to improve their carbon footprints, but also to do the same internally within our facilities and organization. To that end, we are beginning to explore green energy sources for some of our production operations, looking at how we package our products, how we manage our internal inventory and logistics, and even how our people work. As said earlier we are developing our climate strategy and target and plan to install an internal carbon accounting system for EOS. For our customers we are developing green products & services to help them achieve their own sustainability targets. 2022 again will be an exciting year for Responsible Manufacturing at EOS!