Interview with Guest Researcher Timothy Simpson

  Sprecher vor Publikum Cluster of Excellence Integrative Production Technology for High-Wage Countries

Professor Timothy W. Simpson is a guest researcher from the USA visiting Aachen for a short period of time in the framework of the Cluster of Excellence to conduct a workshop on Designing for Additive Manufacturing. Professor Simpson is one of the leading experts in additive manufacturing technology and the design of 3D-printed metal parts and holds the Paul Morrow Professorship in Engineering Design and Manufacturing at Pennsylvania State University. Before he returns to Pennylvania after his short stay, he told us about his experience in Aachen and conducting a workshop for the research area TIME at RWTH.


When did you arrive in Germany and are you enjoying your stay up until now?
I have only arrived two days ago and I must say that I am really enjoying it, it seems that I am lucky with the weather, the sun has been shining since my arrival. I’ve already had a tour around your campus, which was really interesting.

Let us start right at the beginning of your idea of doing these kinds of workshops. How did this idea come to your mind and how long have you been organizing workshops?
I've been doing workshops for about five years, this is our fifth year now. What I'm seeing is there is not a lot of courses focused on the design for additive manufacturing.There are more on the differences between processes but not on how to take advantage of the different processes for designing. But how do you really design and take advantage of these processes? That’s really what is driving this course.

Additive Manufacturing has been on the rise in the last decade concerning the German industry. What do you think about Germany’s role in this ‘Innovation Industry’?
I have visited several folks, and I think the Fraunhofer ILT has been at the forefront of this industry for years. You have got IOS, you have got SLM, so I think Germany has been the leader in this area. That is why I was very excited to come here and meet some of those people. I have toured the Fraunhofer ILT yesterday and was able to see some of the late advances in laser processing. All this is going to be the next generation of additive manufacturing, so that’s exiting.

I think Additive Manufacturing is one of the most interesting processes for people who do not come from a technical background and is highly interesting for the public. Considering that I come from a background in the humanities, I was eager to learn about 3D-printing because it has gained significant influence, even in everyday life.
Interestingly, at Penn State University, we had several communication and technical writing classes that are using additive manufacturing as their case study to learn how to write technically and to describe the processes. So, additive manufacturing benefits many disciplines.

Do you see any differences concerning the USA and Germany in the field of additive manufacturing?
I think there is a much bigger investment or push in Germany from the government and even more so from industry. At home we have tried to recreate this model around the institutes but we still have years to go. So I’ve been really curious to see how all the different companies, institutes and acedemics work together, because you need the whole ecosystem. You cannot just make machines, just do software or only lasers. You here are able to create clusters around that very nicely.

Coming back to the workshop, are you pleased with how it is going?
Yes, very much, we have a very diverse group, from very technical people making new processes to people that are studying psychology and innovation management. I joked that we could start a very interesting company with the people that are here. It's been great.

Coming to the last question, what is your teaching goal? What do you want to achieve with this workshop? What would you like the participants to take home?
It‘s tough because of the varied backgrounds here. One of the things I want to convey is the high versatility around additive manufacturing processes. I think for the less technical people I'm trying to de-mystify some of the technical processes like the hands-on simulations we did. Not that designing is easy but that you can do it when you understand what needs to be done. At the same time I try to offer some case studies and examples for the more technical folks, to get them to think differently. In the end of the day it's all about creativity and how we need to think differently to take full advantage of what additive manufacturing can provide.

What I want to show is that the use of AM is depending on your level. It is applicable from the novice to the expert, the workflow does not change, your tools just get more sophisticated. And even if you do not know how to use CAD, there are now online repositories like thingyverse, you just look for what you want, download it and go. I love doing work with middle and high school students, young kids. You go in and ask them “What do you want to print?”. You could print anything, be it Dinosaurs or anything. Minecraft is a pretty popular game amongst students, so you have all these incentives to just get started.

Thank you for this interview, Timothy Simpson, and all the best wishes for your future!