Printing the Future in 3D

3D printing was once just a convenient, if expensive, way to construct prototypes and a niche for gadget lovers. No longer. Thanks to Germany’s technological expertise and its broad industrial landscape, additive manufacturing is now a USD 12.6 billion market with plenty of opportunities for international businesses.

November 2021

In September last year, a brand new 3D printing facility appeared in the northern German city of Bremen. A Belgian firm called Materialise was behind it, investing EUR 7.5 million into their new location, which now employs more than 120 people and operates over 30 industrial metal printers.

The subsidiary is already working with Airbus, which has a large production facility in Bremen, to print plane parts. The new facility will integrate software development and printing activities at one site. “Our work in Bremen will explore opportunities to optimize printing processes, improve energy efficiency and more consistently recover and reuse metal powder to create more sustainable technologies,” Materialise Vice President Jurgen Laudus says.

Interest in additive manufacturing, Laudus adds, is at an all-time high, after the coronavirus pandemic forced companies in Germany and around the world to rethink their supply chains and bring them closer to home.

Adding up to a big market

In a recent study, EY found that almost half of all German companies (49 percent) already have used or will soon use 3D printing to manufacture end products. That’s up from just 16 percent in 2019. And the online manufacturing platform Hubs (formerly 3D Hubs) estimates that the global additive manufacturing market will expand to USD 37.2 billion by 2026. Germany is at the epicenter of this lucrative trend.

“Germany is a big market,” says Germany Trade & Invest’s 3D printing expert Max Milbredt. That, he explains, is primarily due to the country’s large industrial base, which increasingly relies on the technology for prototypes, tools and parts that previously would have been made by hand. “Metal 3D printers are moving ever-closer to serial production,” he adds.

49%

of German manufacturers expect to be making products with 3D
printing by 2022
Source: EY

Closer to customers and innovation

The growing popularity of 3D printing among many flagship European industrial companies makes the continent’s largest economy an attractive location for international specialist providers. That’s true both of firms that make parts on contract and suppliers of 3D technology. Airbus, for example, already relies on 3D at its Bremen site to make lightweight mounts for overhead compartments in its planes. Meanwhile, BMW recently opened a EUR 15 million 3D printing center to make out-of-production and hard-to-find parts as well as unique tools.

Germany’s network of universities and research institutes is also a source of cutting-edge expertise and skilled personnel – another advantage for international companies like Materialise.

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