3D Printing: A Truly Disruptive Technology
Future Tech 2024: An Interview with Ginna Raahauge, Senior Vice President and CIO, Riverbed
In this Future Tech interview, we’re speaking with Ginna Raahauge, Senior Vice President and Chief Information Officer (CIO) of Riverbed, Ginna is a business-oriented technology leader playing a key leadership role defining and delivering strategies that bring value for Riverbed customers, partners and shareholders. Ginna is responsible for achieving business value and growth in the form of delivering enterprise technology architectures and platforms that capture new business models and showcase the Riverbed platform. Ginna brings more than 20 years of technology and business leadership experience across the high tech industry vertical, and along the way developed a deep interest in 3D printing technology.
Shara Evans (SE): Today, it’s my pleasure to be speaking with Ginna Raahauge, who is the Senior Vice-President and CIO of Riverbed. Ginna was previously the VP for IT, Revenue and Value Chain at Cisco, and in that role, she started to become interested in 3D printing because it solved a number of real-world problems. In our discussion today we’re going to be chatting about the rapidly evolving 3D printing landscape.
Ginna, can you describe your initial interest in 3D printing and perhaps share with us some of your views on the problems that it can help enterprises solve?
Ginna Raahauge (GR): Thanks, Shara. I’m really glad to be doing this interview with you and talking about 3D printing. It’s quite disruptive in the industry lately, and the interest really came from looking at some of the traditional supply chain costs and where new technologies could be applied to help improve that cost structure and improve bottom-line margins.
The most obvious cost structure comes in the logistics of getting products around, whether you’re obviously shipping overseas — shipping via sea is much cheaper, but a lot of companies end up doing a lot of air freight. When you look at how 3D printing could be very disruptive to the logistics of just spare parts for very complicated high-tech equipment, that’s really the first big use case around where this could be applied in an enterprise application.
SE: That makes a lot of sense to me. Many years ago, I was working with Alcatel, and I was a Program Manager, and part of my responsibility involved shipping all kinds of things around the world, including network hardware and spare parts. It cost a lot of money to ship things by air. Going by sea was cheaper. but not really cheap and it took a long time to get places. One of the challenges that I had back in those days was how many types of spares to keep in different locations, and I imagine that that problem hasn’t changed very much over the last 15, 20 years in that you just don’t know what parts are going to fail.
GR: Yes, exactly. If you look at major enterprises such as HP, Cisco, any of the big manufacturing factory shops, there’s a couple of things: one, they have a lot of components; and two, they have a lot of very premium support contracts requiring getting product there in two and four hours because of the mission-critical nature of where these products lie in a corporation’s infrastructure, so to speak, running their day-to-day business. I think the other thing to think about, too, is the assembly disruption. There is a play in 3D printing on the assembly side as well.
SE: Doesn’t it take a fair amount of time print a complex 3D object?
GR: I think in the past it has, and if you research 3D printing you’ll see it’s been around for quite some time — as early as the ‘70s. And in the early ‘80s was some of the first 3D technology. They were very big, cumbersome, and they only printed a few materials, but just like computer technology, everything has improved in form factor and now they have desktop printers that will print very finite types of componentry that even has some mechanical movement inside of it, and they have very large form factor printers. It runs the gamut now, but it’s come a long way.
SE: How long would it take to print, say, a motherboard, or some sort of printed circuit? Have they even gotten that far in terms of the complexity of 3D printing?
GR: Well, they’ve gotten as far in complexity where they’ve created a 3D printer that will actually print another 3D printer! The complexity, they can handle. In terms of the time to print, I’ve witnessed a few things being printed, and in one application in the art industry, they were printing out in a matter of a few minutes. It obviously will depend on the form factor and the size.
SE: If we were looking at something like a logistics application for spare parts for a tech company, what kinds of parts would you imagine might be candidates for 3D printing now?
GR: Well, if you think about some of the components, they can have the chassis, brackets, bolts… How many times have you gone to assemble even a piece of furniture or something that you’ve bought where you’re missing one screw or missing the right-sized screw? Or, we run into this in the United States all the time, parts in the metric versus US system? Those are the most obvious parts, the things that are more hardware-like or parts of a chassis that you’re putting together or a frame that you’re putting together.
When you get to the electronics, that is a candidate. They need to refine how the electronics get actually printed versus the way things are applied today, like on silicone and wafers, but there’s definitely been an advancement in the last couple of years.
SE: I am just constantly amazed every time I look at 3D printing, how far along it’s come. Just going back to the idea of printing out something — for instance, like a chassis where you have air grills and lots of nooks and crannies that you need to slot cards and other things into — what kind of file size file are we talking about for something like a chassis, for example?
GR: Well, they’re going to be in CAD drawings, and some of those design drawings can be very large for engineering organisations to move back and forth, and generally they transmit that via FTP. If it’s a very intricate piece of design element and layering, those files can be gigs in size, and that’s why they need to usually send those over FTP. Some of these files are not that large, and with what’s going on in some of the compression, and you see that even Adobe is playing in this market, taking these design drawings and moving them across in PDF format and then exporting them back out into the actual design mechanics, they’ll be able to send these files back and forth fairly easily.
SE: I didn’t realise Adobe was doing that as PDFs. I learn something new every day that I talk to someone in this space!
Another issue with sending CAD files is obviously security and sending sensitive IP. I would imagine something like a chassis is a lot less sensitive than, say, the actual printed electronics. How would companies handle that?
GR: It could be, but I think where we’re going to see this combination of the file so that they’ll start to be able — just like a 3D printer can print another 3D printer, I think we’ll see a convergence of these engineering drawings all coming together in one document, and that can be sent to the printer for printing, all fully assembled. The security and the IP is going to be really, really important, and I think one of the things that you see in the digital management is that’s an area of real advancement and where they’ll start applying the DRM policies and protections and watermarks around those CAD files.
SE: I think it’s going to need more than just watermarks. If you consider a manufacturer like a Cisco or an HP or an Alcatel or almost anyone you can think of, if they decided to print even spare parts, they wouldn’t necessarily want anyone else to have access to that IP for any reason other than perhaps to print the spare part. Do you think there’s a business case to allow a third party to do the printing, or would they be looking to have their own giant 3D printers in their spare part repositories?
GR: Well, I think if you look at the way things are manufactured today, there’s a lot of outsourcing going on in with contract manufacturing. That’s where Flextronics and Foxconn and some of the other players like Jabil, have all made their money. I think there’s already a trust model where companies trust the contract manufacturers to actually produce and assemble and, in some cases, also create the components there. That trust model could be extended where we actually start to see those factories turning into 3D printing factories.
I do think for application of the spares, most companies have service depots set up all across the nation that are closest to their clients, particularly when they’re meeting high availability turnaround, like two- and four-hour support contracts. Those are really strong candidates for the service depot to turn to more 3D printing instead of stocking all of those parts and having to go through an inventory. It just depends on what kind of insource/outsource model they are using on both sides of the factory, as well as the service depot, service parts.
SE: There’s also this relatively new phenomenon of 3D printing shops that are popping up, which are companies—Shapeways is an example—that are basically dedicated to doing 3D printing. Do you think that they would have a role in something like spare parts logistics, or might they have a different role in the ecosystem?
GR: I think they could grow into that. They may actually aspire to be the go-to printing shop. What I’ve seen them traditionally be used for more is curiously out of the arts industry, as well as a lot of the prototyping. A lot of the engineering groups will send out their printing to Shapeways, but Shapeways has been doing a lot with artists lately and taking some of their 3-dimensional drawings and making those real art forms that those artists could sell.
SE: Yes, I’ve been looking at some of the things they’ve done there. I’d like to come back to that in a moment, but I want to ask you one other question that’s been sort of floating around my mind since I’ve been thinking about this discussion, and that has to do with data centres. Obviously, data centres have very good connectivity just because of what they do and are also very highly secure. Do you see a role, perhaps, for data centres to become a 3D printing hub and maybe trusted repository of highly sensitive IP, like CAD files and other data, and potentially even have 3D printing facilities themselves?
GR: Absolutely. There’s a couple of terms going around about self-healing networks and self-healing factories, and a lot of that concept and theory is built upon the fact that 3D printing is becoming more mainstream. As we need things in the data centre, parts go down. Instead of having those parts shipped into our data centre, we could just receive that CAD file from whatever provider, or create the part ourselves if we needed to do that and actually print it right there in the data centre and do the recovery. The self-healing part comes when there’s more automation, particularly on the factory side.
SE: Yes. I couldn’t see too much self-healing in the data centre just because there’s not a whole lot of moving parts in the data centre. If I think about the evolution of 3D printing, up until recently, the main use case was in prototyping, but that’s really changed in the last few years. Can you comment a little bit about your observations on the changes that you’ve seen?
GR: One of the things that I mentioned earlier was around creativity and a new application of 3D printing for the art industry, and just artists in general. There’s a couple of Kickstarter artists that were trying to raise funds to take their art from paper into true form factor or 3-dimensional form factor. It’s very intricate. A lot of other materials that they were trying to use to make a sculpture out of their artwork wasn’t really doable, and they actually stumbled across the Shapeways avenue. One of them being Joshua Harker, and it’s been kind of interesting to see the actual artwork in 3-dimensional paper-drawing form come to life in something that now these artists can actually really sell as sculptures of all different sizes, colours, and complexity.
That’s one area.
The other thing that we’ve seen is probably just more pervasive use in the construction industry and the way that they are using and doing prototypes. I think they’ve always used that when they’re doing their 3-dimensional modelling and laying out master plans of buildings and major developers — Bechtel being one. What you start seeing is that they’re actually constructing and using 3D printing to construct the materials on site, as opposed to shipping materials in. Because 3D printing form factors is not limited to just plastics and/or other non-metal types of form factors, that’s really come a long way. They can print steel. They can print very hard metals and very hard elements into something that can structurally withstand very large buildings, and there are the printed homes that are going out now.
SE: Where is that happening? I hadn’t heard about actual 3D-printed homes.
GR: There are a couple of projects that have been incubating in the US, and I believe there’s one project overseas. I want to say in Norway.
SE: That’s amazing. It’s actually amazing when I think about metals being printed out of a 3D printer, too, because traditionally you’d have to heat the metal to be able to mould it. How are they doing this?
GR: There’s a couple of different ways to do 3D printing. The most common way is called additive layer, where it deposits a very thin layer with the laser and the material in some kind of a liquid form and lays that down, and it’s just millions and millions of repetitions back and forth. It’s almost like the traditional ink jet printer printing out your picture, but this is staying stationary and it’s building up from the bottom and then it makes the solid mass, and it’s the laser that actually fuses everything together. You can make a very intricate, laser-cut steel ball all in one, and it will all be built up from the bottom to the top.
SE: That’s one of the things that truly astounds me about 3D printing is that what you will end up with is not a bunch of little parts that you then have to fit together like Legos; you actually can get the finished product out of the printer.
GR: Yes, you can, and it’s pretty exact. It’s almost scary how exact it really is. It does all of that final assembly all in one. You can go over there, pull the product out, and it’s completely assembled, all moving parts.
SE: Are the printers sophisticated enough to use different types of materials — for example, metal plus plastic, as an example?
GR: Yes. There’s a lot of experimentation going on around the different types of composites, and how when you put them together, and what the laser actually does with the fusing of the two different types of elements and how that creates a different strength, different solidity, and even just different form factor of pliability in fusing those couple of products together.
There’s another element in dimension that’s just starting to get introduced. MIT University is doing a lot of studies about this, and that’s what they’re saying is going to be the fourth dimension to 3D printing, making that 4D printing, which is environmentals and how those elements react in heat, water, wind, cool, and what they actually form into.
Skylar Tibbits: The emergence of “4D printing”
SE: Are you talking about during the 3D printing process or after the process?
GR: After the process, and it’s the way the composition of the 3D-printed material reacts once it’s put into that environmental.
SE: So, it’s basically doing a real-life test in different environments, I suppose? Is that how you describe it?
GR: Yes. Well, they’ll print a 3D object. Let’s say it would be a straight cylindrical item. They’ll drop it in water, and because of the materials that are using in the 3D printing, as soon as they drop it into water, that material bends into the shape that it’s intended to be. You can take a straight item and drop it in water, and it will become a box, and it actually moves and forms once it hits the water. But during shipping and delivery or printing, it would be a straight item, which is usually a lot less complex than printing it already in a box format.
SE: Wow! It would be water-activated.
GR: Yes, and they have different materials that react to heat, water, wind. They’re testing out a whole bunch of things — and it’s basically redefining chemistry as well, because you’re starting to understand the elements and what the laser is doing in how that activation of those chemical elements coming together — whether it’s steel and plastic, or glass and water, or glass and powder — and what the laser is doing, and fusing that altogether.
There’s a great TED talk about this from Skylar Tibbits at MIT, and they are the ones that are testing a lot of this to try and figure out form factors. If you think about the application of that in industrial piping for cities and you need more water flow to come through, you don’t want to lay down more piping. You want the pipe to actually expand. There’s different ways and different things that they can print. In the TED talk, they show, actually physically show, what they’re working on and how it becomes expansive. It expands and contracts based on different environmental elements.
SE: That is fascinating. It sounds to me like it’s verging on nanotech. Is that how they’re doing this?
GR: It’s a little bit of nanotech, but I think the nanotech theme really comes more to play in the intricacy of some of the sensoring that’s going on, and you apply that to what we talked about earlier with that final assembly. Because 3D printed objects can be printed at a very, very minute level of assembly, you can also start to think about the advent of Internet of Things and machine to machine, and how everything is becoming sensorised so that it’s sending data back and forth all the time. Those sensors could also be technically printed into that same assembly or material of whatever that object is. That would be more of a nanotech application. I think when you watch what they’re doing with the environmentals, they haven’t quite gotten the scale down drastically on that fourth dimension that they’re starting to introduce.
About the author: Shara Evans is internationally acknowledged as a cutting edge technology futurist, commentator, strategy advisor, keynote speaker and thought leader, as well as the Founder and CEO of Market Clarity.
In Part 2 of our interview with Ginna Raahauge we continue our discussion about 3D printing. Topics include 3D printing of electronic circuitry, robot factories, the impact on transport and logistics, mass customisation of consumer goods and healthcare applications.