Flowcastings (FLC) is a German advanced manufacturing business working in the aviation, power and oil & gas industries. Wolf Beele, its CEO, is a turbine industry veteran. Previously with General Electric, Siemens and Alstom, he joined FLC last year, following an investment from Energy Innovation Capital, a US energy venture capital fund. Wolf will be among the speakers in the advanced manufacturing session of Global Corporate Venturing’s London Symposium on May 23rd and 24th.
What is Flowcastings’ innovation? What do you do that other companies can’t do?
We have invented and patented a way of combining computer-assisted-design with computer-assisted-manufacturing for cast turbine products like blades and vanes that are used in airfoils. FLC greatly accelerates the transformation of turbine airfoils from design into production, which makes our clients very happy because they get to deploy new or refurbished turbine engines more quickly, which means they make money much sooner.
How does this differ from conventional manufacturing?
In simple terms, we’re just a lot faster. What a conventional manufacturer can do in about 18 months, we can do in 6 months. We do this by keeping design and manufacturing digital for as long as possible before we have to go into tooling.
How does this fit in with the overall ‘Industry 4.0’ picture?
We fit in very efficiently. Our aviation and power customers are now gathering very detailed information from their turbine fleets. We can help them use this information to optimise their turbines for different situations, for example for different temperature regimes, altitudes, maritime or desert environments. We can achieve this because we are able to digitally alter the original designs very quickly while keeping the cost of tooling low. And what we do is crucial for advanced cooling and aerodynamics, which are the key design elements required in for increased efficiency and lower carbon emissions.
Will your manufacturing process be overtaken by 3D printing?
No. 3D printing will allow fast development and production of the rear stages of airfoils, but can’t do the front stages of airfoils, which is where we come in. To speak technically, 3D printing can manufacture airfoils’ polycrystalline components, but can’t make directionally-solidified and single crystal components. We can. This is what we do best.
So FLC is compatible with 3D printing?
Correct. In fact, there’s a mutually-beneficial relationship between FLC’s manufacturing process and 3D printing. We’re both faster than conventional manufacturing. And if you’re using 3D printing for the rear stages of a turbine, you have to use FLC for the front stages. Otherwise you get slowed right down and your turbine has a significantly reduced lifespan.
Who are your customers?
We’re selling to the leading European turbine companies like MAN Turbo, Safran and Siemens. Our sweet spot is highly complex, low to medium volume parts. Our reputation is growing and we’re filling our customer pipeline with several new potential customers, including American ones.
What countries and regions are you focused on?
We’re based in Germany and currently focused on Europe. We’re no more than two or three hours from all our clients here. To be close to all potential customers, and when the time is right, we will also establish ourselves in North America.
How do you make money? What’s your business model?
The good news is that because we’re fast, and because we thereby enable our clients to get to market much faster than their competitors, we’re not in danger of being commoditised. And don´t forget that the parts that we manufacture are the parts that need to be repaired and replaced regularly, so our services are needed on a recurring basis. We therefore have a business model which is founded on value-based pricing and recurring revenues. It’s a great business model.
Will you be overtaken by the shift to renewables and electric aviation?
No. Hydrocarbons will remain dominant in the energy mix for the foreseeable future. Gas-fired power is going to be all the more important because it will help compensate for renewables’ intermittency. Electric aircraft may become feasible for short distances, but not for middle and long distances. So we have to use hydrocarbons much more efficiently to meet the growing demand for energy while reducing carbon emissions. FLC is very much a part of this energy efficiency story.
We look forward to your participation in the symposium
Thanks. We look forward to being there.
Disclaimer: FLC is advised by LEIF, whose Chairman, Tom Whitehouse, conducted this interview and who will moderate the advanced manufacturing session at the GCV symposium.