April 19, 2022
In this Member Spotlight, Sherry Handel, Executive Director of the Additive Manufacturer Green Trade Association (AMGTA) interviews Brian Neff, Founder and CEO of Sintavia. Brian is a lifelong aerospace entrepreneur and executive who discovered AM for the first time in 2011 while operating a prior aerospace company. He officially launched Sintavia in 2015 and since then has made promoting sustainability within AM a major feature of his company.
As the initiating force behind AMGTA, please tell us how you came up with the idea of a global trade group focused on environmental sustainability in additive manufacturing and why you took the leap of faith to go ahead and launch the organization at Formnext in November 2019?
Brian: There has always been a recognition that, when compared to conventional forms of manufacturing, additive manufacturing represents a faster, more efficient, and ultimately more cost-effective alternative. These benefits (speed, optimization, cost) are quite tangible and can be easily demonstrated in specific use cases. What was lacking, however, was a comprehensive and robust analysis showing sustainability use cases—cases where additively designed, manufactured, and utilized products were compared to their conventional alternatives.
The need for this independent research was really the driving force behind the establishment of the AMGTA. It is our hope that, beginning this spring and continuing every 9-12 months thereafter, we are able to introduce peer-reviewed, rigorous research that will quantify the sustainable benefits of additive technology. Our goal then would be to promote these reports to our members and the general public, so to raise the awareness of the opportunities presented by this technology.
At the time this interview, the AMGTA has grown rapidly to 43 members representing the diversity and breadth of the AM industry. What do you attribute this success to?
Brian: I attribute it to a combination of several factors—the clarity of our mission, the recognition by our members (and potential members) of the need for our research, and, of course, the hard work of our Executive Director! To be honest, given all of the turbulence of the last two years, I am really impressed with how well our mission has resonated. I believe that by 2025 we will be well over 100 members.
How does your role as a Founding Member of the AMGTA and Chair of the AMGTA Board of Directors help shape the future of environmental sustainability in additive manufacturing?
Brian: One of the areas that I am committed to personally is to help guide and develop sustainable manufacturing practices for the entire additive industry. With respect to my company, Sintavia, our main line of business printing complex mechanical systems in metal is new—not just to us, but to everyone. I want to drive a real focus on sustainable practices for everyone involved in our ecosystem—practices for sourcing raw material, printing, post-processing, inspection, and disposing of waste. We are a totally new industry and have an immature understanding of which practices work, and which ones are harmful, and I want to change this.
This is very important to me, that the AMGTA work with all of our members to share their experiences in sustainable manufacturing practices. I do not believe that sustainable business practices are protected IP!
What has surprised you most over the past two and a half years with the AMGTA?
Brian: Great question! I have been most pleasantly surprised with people’s reaction to a “green trade” organization. While there are some precedents in Germany and Austria for green-industrial political cooperation, I was initially concerned that there would not be a global appeal for this idea. Generally, people understand the concept of a green organization, and they understand the concept of a trade organization, but would they understand the concept of both of them together? I was unsure. Yet, people have responded so positively!
On one hand, we are passionate about sustainable AM practices that reduce the global carbon footprint and energy usage, but on the other we are not Luddites who do not understand that change has to occur within the economic structures that currently exist. We are in business to be in business, but only if we can promote the best and highest uses of this amazing, transformative technology for sustainable purposes. I have been really encouraged that this message has seemed to resonate.
One year after founding the AMGTA, Sintavia achieved ISO 14001 certification for implementing an Environmental Management System at your Hollywood, Florida location. What have you learned through this certification process? What do you hope to achieve in terms of your sustainability goals?
Brian: I believe the AMGTA can do more to work with accrediting agencies to develop better guidelines for our type of manufacturing. I am a little biased in this regard, of course, but I believe that additive technology is going to be the manner in which the majority of durable goods will be manufactured globally by 2050. We need to anticipate this and create a really strong certification process that is tailored for our type of technology.
In March 2021, Sintavia published the Overview of Disposal Procedures for Powder Condensate Within Metal Powder Bed Fusion white paper. Why did your company decide to spearhead this effort in partnership with the AMGTA and Triumvirate Environmental?
Brian: Well, in the world of powder bed fusion, powder is your number one raw material and number one waste stream. As I mentioned above, I am personally committed to developing and sharing best sustainable manufacturing processes with others through the AMGTA, and powder handling and disposal is absolutely the #1 focus for me. No other conventional industry has a similar waste profile as we do in the world of additive, and even though it is much smaller than traditional manufacturing, it still exists, and we need to address this head on so that once our industry is 1,000x larger than it is now the foundation has been laid and we do not have huge waste problems.
What do you think are the most significant sustainability challenges facing the additive manufacturing industry? What should be done to address these challenges and how is your company and the AMGTA helping to do this?
Brian: My biggest fear is that people will become frustrated with near term challenges and lose sight of the bigger picture on what additive truly represents. We represent a 100% digital manufacturing process in a world that is moving towards the digitization of everything around us. What is happening to our reality is more than just a “digital twin”; it is a “digital prime” where data becomes more important than the physical nature around us—because data can be ported, optimized, and duplicated. And here we are, in the world of AM, as the only manufacturing technology that is also 100% digital. Opportunities like this do not come around often, so it is incumbent upon us and the AMGTA to create the right roadmap and guardrails to build this industry in the most responsible and sustainable way possible.