Mistakes to avoid when adopting additive into your manufacturing tool kit: Joe Bergeron

A couple months ago, I asked a somewhat controversial question on LinkedIn:

In your opinion, what's the one mistake people should avoid when adding additive manufacturing to their tool kit?

The response rate was considerable, with so many great answers.

One of the replies which received a lot of positive support was from my colleague Amber Andreaco. She shared that the one mistake she would suggest you avoid is, "Assuming direct transfers of designs and materials. DfAM can often mean you do not need the same material used for the part manufactured using conventional methods.” I interviewed Amber and wrote more about her response here.

Another popular response was also from my GE colleague, Joe Bergeron. Joe started his career in and spent almost a decade in the US Navy, flying as Mission Commander on F/A-18 super hornet aircraft. He’s now the Commercial Director for all of our DoD customers here at GE Additive. Joe’s experience gives him a strong and healthy understanding of leadership, influence, and how to operate with a sense of urgency.

Joe shared that one mistake he would suggest you avoid is, “For large organizations, failing to find an internal champion who will be able to spread this technology's promise and application both across divisions and decision makers.” With great enthusiasm, I interviewed Joe to learn more.

We know that with additive manufacturing, you’ll either disrupt with it or be disrupted by it. The sense of urgency to understand and adopt this new technology is very real, yet we still see leaders who are otherwise quite visionary, elect to bow out or turn a blind eye. You’ll hear things like, “We’ve always done it this way,” or, “I want to avoid loss of control.” Or sometimes it’s more basic, like, “I just need to feel safe with my decision-making.”

Recently, the Chief of Staff of the Air Force, General Charles Q. Brown, Jr., challenged the USAF to ‘accelerate change or lose.’ It’s apparent General Brown sees the promise of advanced technology. He’s showcased himself as a technology champion. But how do you find the internal champion when it’s less obvious or less easy?

First, Joe, what exactly does it mean to be a technology champion?

A technology champion doesn’t need to be a technologist. Rather they are an individual with positional authority who has the vision and confidence to commit to what could be. They serve as shield, an amplifier, a showcase, and a connector.

A good salesperson always knows how to identify an internal champion in a prospective company. But how can an organization do this themselves? What are a few critical steps to find internal additive champions who can effectively influence change?

  1. Identify and work with the forward-thinking individuals.

  2. Help them develop their vision, and how to ask for support within their organization to realize their vision.

  3. Shift the discussion away from the tactical how to the strategic why.

  4. Mature reasoning to assure their strategic leader not only supports the vision, but that it aligns to the organization’s mid-term business strategy.

In your opinion, how can a technology champion best turn uncertain skepticism into confident change?

They need to produce a prototype and/or business plan whose technical capabilities and financial feasibility justify further investment, and secure cross-functional stakeholder support. This cross-functional support can be made up of individual contributors across key areas, including manufacturing, engineering, and sourcing, where combined influence will provide momentum across the organization.

How did your time in the military teach you leadership strategies for influence or change management?

Leaders share credit, and fully assume blame. This mindset is necessary for a technology champion because their reputation is what is being leveraged. It’s what is at risk.

From Everett Rogers’ Innovation Diffusion Theory — Would you rather work for an organization with a majority of additive 1) Innovators, 2) Early Adopters, 3) Early Majority, 4) Late Majority, or 5) Laggards, and why?

My role within GE Additive is to make complex metal additive manufacturing accessible to everyone and bring this technology to large-scale commercial operations. Consequently, I need the technology to be out of the lab and evolved to a position where it can be deployed in a range of commercial and technical applications. With this reality, I enjoy living on the line between innovators and early adopters.

Why did you decide to build a career in program management and sales after you left the Navy?

When I left the Navy, I knew I wanted a role in high-technology sales. I relish the opportunity to help customers advance their application base through the adoption of transformative technology. My role allows me to thread the needle between customer needs and business requirements, assuring that our customers are equipped with the information they need to make strategic decisions.

What frustrates you most in additive manufacturing today?

Fighting the hype cycle. Additive is real, and it is tough for customers looking to quickly scale. That is where the guidance of an organization who has been through it before has such power. Metal additive can be a challenge to do well at scale. Unfortunately, there are still voices in our industry that claim it is possible to just “press a button and it’s done.”

And what are you most excited to see in the next couple of years?

There is so much additive technology in development and already coming to market now. I’d say I am most excited about the potential for metal Binder Jet to disrupt the traditional casting industry. As well, seeing continued success on our Pacer Edge program with the USAF. Our latest milestone includes an F110 additively manufactured sump cover and is the first engine component designed for and produced by metal AM to be qualified by any US Department of Defense entity. The capability that Pacer Edge is demonstrating and proving will be a game changer to engine production and sustainment and will resolve many future Air Force readiness challenges.

As always, I welcome any comments or questions at alison.wyrick@ge.com.

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