Berlin Goes 3D

For decades, Berlin was not seen as an important industrial location. But in recent years, start-ups have been transforming the city, and 3D printing technology has become a major driver of change. These innovative companies are looking for international cooperation and finance.

April 2020

Germany’s capital city is thriving once again – it has become a magnet for companies from all over the world. Following the division of Germany after World War II, which had split Berlin in two, large companies moved their headquarters out of the city. But it has been 30 years since the Berlin Wall came down, and the capital’s economy is growing steadily. Bit by bit, Berlin is regaining its reputation as an economic metropolis.

This is largely due to the creative thinkers that have made Berlin their home over the past few decades, and the many start-up companies and think tanks that have been founded there. Berlin offers the conditions for growth that entrepreneurs in many other capitals can only dream of: comparatively low rents, a highly qualified, international workforce and an undaunted spirit of optimism. This compelling mix is also attracting investors from all over the world, keen to “get a piece” of the boom and to participate in the innovative start-up scene.

The “Retro Seat” was unveiled by Berlin-based BigRep at the Aircraft Interiors Expo in Hamburg last year. It demonstrates how an existing aircraft seat can be completely redesigned using 3D printing techniques, resulting in weight savings of 50 percent. It offers high-tech features such as inductive charging for smartphones and other devices on the back of the headrest. The prototype was developed using Dassault Systèmes’ 3DEXPERIENCE platform and the “Passenger Experience” industry solution. © BigRep GmbH International

Berlin leads in additive manufacturing

Berlin is a world leader in 3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing. These printers are used for the production of models and prototypes in many different businesses. The devices can produce parts or entire products quickly and in one piece with little material input – without weak points such as welding or adhesive seams. There are more start-up companies in Berlin tinkering with new 3D printing techniques, materials and machines than anywhere else in Germany. The international 3D printing network “Mobility goes Additive” (MGA), with over 100 member companies, is based in Berlin. The initiative supports start-ups and helps more established companies to implement 3D printing in their production processes, including serial production. “Germany is the motherland of 3D printing,” says Stefanie Brickwede, managing director of MGA.

One of MGA’s members, Berlin-based BigRep, is working on 3D-printed material innovation for aerospace. Together with French company Dassault Systèmes, Big­Rep recently developed the world’s first printed aircraft seat. “Our seat saves 50 percent in weight and thus creates enormous advantages for sustainable aircraft construction,” the company claims. The reason is that parts produced with 3D printing technology do not have to be solid: A honeycomb structure on the inside provides stability but is considerably lighter.

»Germany is the motherland of 3D printing.«

Stefanie Brickwede
Mobility goes Additive (MGA)

New innovations coming out of 3D tech hubs like Berlin could revolutionize industrial production. Imagine several print heads installed above an assembly line: Once the first part of a product has been printed, the assembly line moves it to the second print head to work a further step, then to a third, and so on. The potential for the manufacturing industry is huge.

“After decades spent as a tool for prototyping, 3D printing has now come of age as its focus shifts to series production,” says Aleksander Ciszek, founder and CEO of Gefertec, a member of the Berlin.Industrial.Group. The start-up makes a 3D printer which pulls wire from a spool and melts it. It then dispenses liquid metal threads via a nozzle. Different components can be created in this way by layering. Compared to traditional metal production, companies can save up to 60 percent of their original manufacturing costs and have simplified the process to three steps: storage of the wire, in-printer production and post-production processing.

50%

of all manufactured goods are to be produced using 3D printing globally by 2060. Source: ING

American investment in Berlin

Berlin’s inventive additive printing scene is attracting considerable interest and investment. The U.S. company Formlabs, for example, opened a site in the city in 2014 to complement its locations in China and Japan. Their Berlin office has become the central sales and customer support center for the European market. In recent years, record sums have flowed into German start-ups across all business (investments amounted to EUR 4.8 billion in 2018, according to EY) and the majority of this capital was invested in Berlin. In order to accommodate demand, a technology park is being built on a 40ha former industrial site in the Tempelhof-Schöneberg district – it is no surprise that several of the first settlers will be 3D printing companies.

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