Supply Chains of the Future: An Interview with Mikhail Gladkikh
Mikhail Gladkikh is the Global Director of Technology and Technical Projects at the Würth Additive Group. In this interview he explains both personal and professional reasons to join the team and elaborates on how industrial 3D printing is changing the supply chain industry, physical and digital inventory, and discusses current and future state of the art.
- On Joining Würth Additive Group (WAG)
I joined WAG because it’s the best place to be if you want to be at the forefront of transforming the industry. And this is where I’d like to be; I’m following my passion.
Würth is the global supply chain player within many different industries, and is already starting to drive the concept of digital supply chain into its own and its customers’ businesses. Additive Manufacturing is a big part of this transformation and WAG is becoming the lifeblood that feeds the change. We are building a digital supply chain utility company with WAG that Würth can rely on anywhere and anytime.
Another reason is the team. I’ve worked with WAG in the capacity of stewarding the joint service offering between WAG and Baker Hughes Additive Manufacturing Services, and I’ve been astonished by the drive, energy, and positive, can-do attitude of all WAG team members I’ve interacted with. It is a privilege to be part of this talented and passionate group, and I’m enjoying every moment of it.
- Industry Transformation
I’ve spent 17 years at Baker Hughes, an Energy Technology Company, and this is where I was introduced to Additive Manufacturing a little bit over six years ago. It has become my passion since then. I could see the potential to transform design and manufacturing with Additive Manufacturing from the very beginning, and then I realized how Additive Manufacturing could be the engine to create digital supply chains.
One of my previous roles at Baker Hughes was to lead the Global Logistics Business Transformation program, and I realized that from the lean perspective, Logistics is 100% waste— there is no value added to the product, we spend a lot of energy and money to simply move the products from place to place. Why does it have to be so? Could you move the product digitally and then actualize it in the physical world at the place of consumption? I envision a transformation with the physical goods similar to what happened in the music industry. We don’t carry CDs and CD players with us anymore; we now can access any song, anytime, from anywhere, on demand. Why can’t we do the same with physical goods?
Würth is a global brand with hundreds of thousands of customers all over the world, and is already a connecting tissue for global supply chains and inventories. WAG in this vision of transformation is a utility, like plumbing that enables the digital workflows and the emergence of physical goods at the point of use.
If anyone could make the digital supply chain a reality, it is Würth.
- Digital Inventory
Previous discussion leads to the important realization that inventories don’t have to be physical, they should be digital. The energy consumption and carbon footprint of moving a digital file is dramatically smaller than that of moving physical goods. And storing large quantities of parts at various locations just in case you might need them someday is just not efficient. There are numerous examples of slow-moving and obsolete inventories that businesses stockpile just as a risk mitigation measure of running out of spares. Now, compare it with the scenario of creating a physical object from a digital file on-demand, at the point of consumption. We’d still address all the risks with the fraction of lifecycle investment and no waste.
- Present Limitations
This vision is breathtaking, but is it achievable? Where are we today and what are the barriers and limitations preventing us from realizing it?
We are just beginning the journey, we have a long way to go. To let you fully appreciate the scale, the size of the Additive Manufacturing industry is a meager 0.1% of the total $14.2 trillion world manufacturing economy according to OECD. Not everything could be printed yet (for the technical reasons, size and material selection being the key hurdles) and not everything should (from the economic perspective, as the capital cost of printers and post-processing equipment prohibits many lower-cost applications). But I expect the size of both these buckets to grow tremendously in the future, making the case for Additive Manufacturing and digital supply chain overall more and more attractive.
Due the above hurdles, the adoption of Additive Manufacturing in the industry has been slow, and the absence of standards and codes for Additive Manufacturing does not help. We have to work with our customers case by case, finding appropriate niches, building the business cases, and helping them accelerate the adoption, making sure they have the ecosystem and continuous support that just works. After all, this is what you’d expect from your utility company.
- Finding Success Fast
This leads us to the question of what we can do today—right now—to find Additive Manufacturing applications. Where do we start the journey for each customer?
Solving the current challenges requires understanding both the technology and the economics of lifecycle costs. No longer is it a part sourcing exercise, it is about creating differentiating solutions with Additive Manufacturing that are not possible to manufacture any other way. It is about dramatically simplifying production routers, eliminating joining and assembly steps, removing potential reliability pain points of solder joints or welding. This is why I say “lifecycle costs”—it is a sounder investment to make products that last 10 times longer even if the purchase price doubles compared to conventional offerings. It is a different game, a long-term game of prosperity and abundance.
Solving current challenges also requires fast action, responsibility, creativity, and engagement of multiple players in the product value chain: Material Scientists, Design Engineers, Manufacturing Experts, Reliability Engineers, Application Engineers, Finance, and Procurement. All these players would touch the lifecycle case of the product, and this is what we should be targeting with Additive Manufacturing and digital supply chain: how to meet the demand of the end user the in the most effective and efficient way throughout the product life cycle.
I believe we create the future with the actions we take today. The world of tomorrow is imagined and built by our company and our customers as we speak. And it is not just about Additive Manufacturing or even digital supply chain; this is a whole new industry of the future, built around the tech ecosystem, including virtualization, immense quantum computing power on the edge and in the cloud, design optimization with multi-physics, multi-material objects, and AI powering the fast and resilient systems managing the flow of information and digital threads. Companies that don’t act now will become extinct, joining such dinosaurs as Blockbuster, Tower Records, and Borders. Only through continuous daring, innovation, and laser focus on solving customer problems with new tools will we build this amazing vision, brick by brick, customer by customer. I am excited to be part of this grand project and invite all of you to join WAG on this monumental journey to create the future world!