“Companies are thinking about how to reduce supply-chain dependency”

Restricted mobility due to the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent supply bottlenecks have underscored the advantages of 3D printing – and that’s not the technology’s only benefit. Germany Trade & Invest expert Jerome Hull talks about where the sector is headed and how international companies can profit.

November 2021

What are the biggest developments in 3D printing/additive manufacturing in the last 12 months?

3D printing is still a somewhat obscure, indirect entity in serial production. Nonetheless, additive manufacturing is playing a greater and greater role in processes, especially when they involve unique features and replacement parts. The 3D printing sector has established itself as a driver of innovation, with a number of new technologies and facilities that make additive manufacturing quicker, more efficient and more economically viable. It has enabled numerous steps forward in the entire manufacturing chain, from material to post-production. The corona pandemic and the subsequent bottlenecks in global supply chains, as well as efforts to make production sustainable, have put further wind in additive manufacturing’s sails.

You mention sustainability. As this interview is being recorded, the COP 26 is taking place in Glasgow. What contribution can 3D printing make to climate protection?

Many industrial nations want transition to climate-neutral, sustainable production that conserves the planet’s resources. When properly employed, innovative technologies like 3D printing reduce the need for stocks and reduce the amount of resources needed. As a rule, production takes place on site, shortening transportation routes and reducing carbon emissions. Because 3D printers only use the material needed for a specific object, there’s almost no waste. The production of parts becomes significantly more ecological because it uses fewer raw materials and can be tailored toward recyclable and renewable ones.

As the world seeks to emerge from corona-influenced economic slowdowns, supply chains have become a problem. How can and has 3D printing helped here?

Because the corona pandemic restricted mobility in many places, many companies turned to digital solutions, for example, by making respirators or face shields with 3D printers. When the weak spots in international supply chains became apparent, many manufacturers, often for the first time, began relying on additive manufacturing because it allowed urgently needed parts to be produced flexibly and effectively. Managers of a great many companies are now thinking about how they can reduce their dependency on supply chains in the future. With additive manufacturing, they can react quickly – and not just in times of crisis.

What sort of international companies have come to Germany and had success with 3Dprinting? Can you give an example or two?

One company that Germany Trade & Invest was fortunate enough to assist in establishing itself in Germany is Formlabs, a 3D printing technology developer and manufacturer from the US. Formlabs opened a location in Berlin in 2014, which has since become its main sales and customer support center for the European market. Since opening its Berlin office, the company has hired more than 100 team members, making Formlabs a market leader in Europe’s digital fabrication industry.

On October 7, 2021, Belgian 3D printer service and software provider Materialise officially opened a center for additive metal manufacturing expertise in the northwestern city of Bremen. It had been operating since the previous March. It’s the world’s only center for expertise specifically in metal and is home to 120 employees, up to 30 industrial metal 3D printers and the necessary support hardware and equipment. Germany offers businesses looking to expand, from start-ups to established companies, a variety of opportunities.

Where do you think this sector is headed in the next few years?

Globally, additive manufacturing is set to expand steadily. Average growth of between 17 and 22 percent has been predicted for the coming years. Additive manufacturing is not only ideal for generating unique features. It will also contribute to increases in production for high-end components with significant, functional added value. 3D printing will continue to establish itself and become a permanent part of industry. As the biggest market in Europe, Germany is an optimal place to invest in your additive manufacturing business.

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