Bart Van der Schueren May 7, 2019

A few years back, it seemed that 3D printing had had its heyday — a brief 15 minutes of fame during which popular media zoomed in on the technology’s potential in relation to consumer goods. From 3D family portraits as Christmas trinkets to conveniently printing out a replacement part for a door hinge that needed fixing, it seemed that this “new” technology could do it all, and from the comfort of one’s own home.

1. Bart Van der Schueren

Materialise CTO - EVP Bart Van der Schueren

FDM (Fused Deposition Modeling) was the extrusion technology associated with mainstream media’s speculation that 3D printers would become standard household appliances. When this did not pan out as predicted, the same outlets that had sung the praises of 3D printing now declared the technology to be “dead”. But despite this death sentence, we at Materialise felt certain that the full potential of this much-hyped technology – FDM, that is – had not yet been tapped into.

From early on, it was apparent to us that rather than focusing on consumer usage, FDM was a natural fit for industrial applications, particularly within the broad spectrum of engineering plastics used to make components. But there was a crucial missing ingredient that prevented the 3D industry at large from reaching that next level of transformative disruption: interoperability. A more open market is key for industrial manufacturers, and it seemed that being locked down into proprietary solutions that limit flexibility and choice was no longer an option if 3D printing was to drive complementary manufacturing technology for end-use products.

It was clear to us that in order to keep advancing the industry, we had to move beyond innovation: we had to collaborate. Enter BASF and Essentium, Inc.

DRIVING DISRUPTION THROUGH PARTNERSHIPS AND OPEN ECO-SYSTEMS

As industry pioneers, we at Materialise have always been prescient of future potential based on the leaps and bounds being made across the board in 3D printing technology. The same is true in the era of Industry 4.0, in which the manufacturing industry is eager to integrate additive manufacturing (AM) into the overall production process.

As Materialise CEO Fried Vancraen underlined, it is important that we form alliances and work together so as to provide more control (but also more freedom), vaster choices in terms of materials and systems, and lower costs down the line. Materialise is a major player in spearheading the movement towards a more open market model, partnering with industry leaders to pave the way.

 

Essentium Workroom

Moving beyond innovation through collaboration

 

It was in this spirit that Materialise formed a strategic alliance with our valued partner BASF and Essentium, Inc., a Texas-based developer of innovative hardware solutions for disruptive, industrial AM. The three companies combine their strengths to advance 3D printing technology and customer value. BASF contributes their comprehensive material expertise while Essentium provides the hardware with their industrial additive platform and Materialise the software backbone.

 

Essentium

Interoperability is key for driving a disruptive industry

From the get-go, it was evident that Essentium differentiate themselves from the rest of the market in terms of the speed at which their High Speed Extrusion 3D platform can print. Beyond this, we at Materialise were drawn to their sense of innovation: Essentium builds on FDM – i.e. the very technology associated with the 3D printing hype bust – and have found a way to truly harvest the potential.

What united our three companies from the very beginning was a shared vision of how FDM technology can exponentially add value to the industrial field. The potential of future deliverables – an open ecosystem, the production volume, the choice of materials, and the fact that scaling up in size rapidly is possible thanks to the large platform of the Essentium hardware – speaks for itself. What further strengthens the partnership, however, is something that can only be defined as good chemistry. And while we are cognizant of upcoming challenges, we are united in our efforts to further the growth of this technology.

TRANSFORMATIONAL TECHNOLOGY TO CHANGE THE SUPPLY CHANGE

The partnership between BASF, Essentium, Inc., and Materialise will generate interest in markets where, at present, the existing 3D-printing technologies are still not matching user needs. In a nutshell: the total cost of ownership is still too high, the existing software does not afford as much control or freedom as is required, the choice of materials is not varied enough, and the production volume is too low. The combined complementary strengths of our three companies covers all of these factors.

 

Essentium

Behind the scenes at the Essentium, Inc. headquarters in Texas

We at Materialise see 3D printing as being a game changer that will impact the manufacturing value chain. This, however, is contingent on two factors: continuous innovation within the industry and more open market models for AM. In terms of the first, Essentium is right on the money with their high-speed extrusion technology. They were able to correctly identify the untapped potential of an existing technology that had seemingly gone past its prime, and apply it where it can truly make a difference. In terms of the latter, the alliance between Materialise, BASF, and Essentium was made in an effort to move towards a more open eco-system. A personal anecdote to illustrate this:

While visiting the Essentium, Inc. headquarters in Texas, we gave them a spool of our own material, without providing them with any information. They put the spool in their machine, and within one hour’s time, they got it working, and were able to print parts. This had never been seen up until that moment in time; ordinarily, a lot of time and effort is required, and for the most part nothing comes of it. In contrast, the team in Texas simply put our spool on their machine, entered a few parameters, and away it went, producing a decent component. To us, this was very inspiring: it truly showed the potential of an open system.

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