Alireza: Welcome to this very first 3DP and me podcast by Materialise. Today, we'll be exploring the interesting subject of sustainability and more specifically looking at some of the factors' eyewear brands may want to consider when evaluating whether 3D printing is a viable and suitable enabler for their sustainability ambitions. I am Alireza Parandian. One of the founders of the business line eyewear at Materialise. I've been active here for the past seven years and now leading global business strategy and commercial activities for this domain. Joining me for today's episode, are two special guests each coming at this important topic from a very different area, Dr. Sam Solaimani, independent advisor and digital transformation, and then associate professor in technology and information management at Nyenrode business university. Welcome Sam and Iddo Zimmerman, co-founder and managing director for the German eyewear brand, weareannu.
Alireza: Hi, Iddo. Welcome guys. Sam, would you like to introduce yourself and say a little bit about why this topic is of particular interest to you?
Sam: Thanks for having me Alireza, and thanks for the introduction. I am indeed freelance advisor and university based researcher with focus on visualization and operational excellence. And last several years I have been focusing on a link between process and technology on one hand side and increasingly critical topic of sustainability. So, it's a pleasure to be here and talk to you about the innovative project that we have recently delivered at Materialise. In fact, first in its kind and exploring sustainability opportunities and basically laying the foundation for green production and measurable and actionable way, a very interesting context as well, eyewear, a mass customized product, so it's a pleasure to be here.
Alireza: Thank you, Sam. Iddo, would you introduce yourself please?
Iddo: Yeah, why not. So, my name is Iddo Zimmerman, I'm, as Alireza said, co-founder, managing director of Weareannu, which is a young brand that has been established a little bit over two years ago, and that's more or less it.
Alireza: Thank you so much. So, let's get into it quickly. Sustainability, in my opinion is a broad umbrella term. And given my academic background, I don't really believe that there is such a thing as a sustainable technology in itself. What's more important I think is how sustainable you or one could utilize the technology for the production of certain products. That's why we at Materialise and especially in our eyewear division where sustainability is one of the main drivers for the adoption of the technology for our customers, wanted to really dig deeper and understand the trade-offs and considerations that eyewear brands may want to consider and look at when making the choice for 3D printing technology or any other technology of choice.
And it was really important to me personally, to validate this through a rich data set, to ensure that our clients would be able to make more informed choices about that. And that's what brought us to you, Sam at Nyenrode the business university department of supply chain management, to start a two year collaboration and doing research on this domain. Before we look at some of the findings, Sam, can you perhaps explain a little bit about how you went about the research?
Sam: Well, fortunately sustainability and ESG and SDGs are gaining huge attraction. That's something that we are seeing, that I'm seeing also in my advisory role. And perhaps you may argue that it's not surprising with all what is happening around us. Take the latest UN report about climate change. Unfortunately though there are not many enterprises that know how to truly contribute to sustainability and turn their sustainability ambition into actions. And against this context, there are several important steps that we undertook in this project that are worth mentioning, which are by the way, very replicable and therefore might be inspiring for listeners of this podcast. So, one of the first things that we have decided upon was to basically opt an end to end scope instead of like looking into single machines or single echelons. So, we have a lot of studies out there that are actually looking into very small scope, subset of entire production lines to prevent a partial reality, we'll look into end-to-end production.
And we have been focusing on several meaningful parameters and to do so we've been talking to production and control and supply chain experts. So that, was really, really eye opening and also helped us to be focused on those factors that matter the most. Also, been working on validated data points for our project. I think that is a very important otherwise you may getting on a wrong track. We also have compared various settings. So, we've been looking into 3D printing and we have compared that to CNC, we've been looking into colors, we've been looking to size and shape and try to model even the demand variability. And processes all to mimic the reality in a very realistic way so that we can run our analytics and simulations and many, what if scenarios that we have run in the past couple of months.
Sam: But what I'm most enthusiastic about is the holistic view that we adopted in this project. So, not only focusing on environment, but also focusing on economic aspects like inventory levels and lead time and so on, and also social aspects, something that I think it's really unique to this project and all simultaneously. So, such approach is perhaps right now pretty cutting edge, but I think in near future it will be enforced by EU regulations and directive. So, as a company, you better start experimenting today rather than tomorrow.
Alireza: Thank you, Sam, for shedding light on the structure of this research. I know that the research is currently under peer review, but it would be nice for our audience, if you could perhaps give us a sneak peek and a flavor of the findings of your research.
Sam: Yeah. So, there are different things that we have found out in this project, but I think the most critical contribution of this project is that we've been able to pinpoint a number of key trade-offs in the production process and in a control process, which means identifying different settings, that call for a different type of actions and different strategies. For example, in a high customization context represented by varying size and shape. We found out that the switch over time, set up time, takeoff in CNC setting causing a higher labor intensity, longer lead times, as well as high energy consumption, but in a low customization level, especially, mark by higher color diversity, we saw the 3D printing became less efficient with the high lead time. In that context CNC were able to provide better service levels.
We even went one step further, we worked out a lot of what if analysis and heat maps and utilization calculations, and that helped us to actually pinpoint some non-linearity behavior in the process. So, the feature combinations that led to high-low high inventory cost or low-high low inventory cost. So, basically inverted U shaped function where production manager can seek an optimum point for the production planning to hit the best sustainability impact. And that is amazing, because as an organization, as a business, you can steer your process toward low carbon dioxide, less stressed at shop floor, less cost in terms of inventory and scrap all at the same time and that should be something that all businesses should dream of, if you ask me.
Alireza: Thank you so much for these wonderful insights, Sam, I think in a nutshell that actually shows that this research wasn't looking for a winner in terms of which technology is more sustainable or not, but was looking at what factors are important to consider as trade-offs given the scenario that you have at hand for your production. Let's step out of the academic realm for a second. Iddo, I've known you for a while now in this industry. And you're one of the leading brands in this domain of 3D printed eyewear. I want you to focus a little bit more on the core beliefs of your brand and how you can link that to the topic of sustainability.
Iddo: Okay. So, we are using a set of words and these words help us with every single thing that we do. And within this group of words, there are three, let's call them most important words, which are simple, honest and smart. And then with every single project that we start, we use these three words as questions to ourselves. Is it simple? Is it smart? Is it honest? And I think when it comes to sustainability, the most important word out of the three is, honest. And then it is becoming very obvious that end consumers, especially the end consumer that we are targeting, value sustainability very much. And it is something that can really encourage them to buy into a story of a brand and then resulting in buying their products. And therefore, this is a topic that we as a company take very seriously and do our best to be as sustainable as we can and be very clear and honest about things.
Alireza: Thank you so much. Sam, what are your thoughts on that?
Sam: I only can agree with Iddo and their approach and what I can add to it is that, what we see as an audience interest in sustainability, is expanding. So, there is a very important trend that we need to take into account. The public that has interest in sustainability is growing and become mainstream at some point. So, they used to be a niche market, and that is something that is important to inform a lot of companies to take into account. That is one thing. The second thing is that what I just pointed out too, is the directives and regulations within EU borders and also beyond, something that the companies need to take into account. At some point is not about what we think or what we believe it's about the enforcement and compliance. And therefore it becomes a massive topic, especially in production and production context. And I also think, I agree that we do not have a silver bullet.
There is no fixed formula how to do a sustainability right now, and probably not in future either because there are so many different ways to produce your products and are so many different indexes and measures that you want to take into account. And at some point it will be a lot of regulations and rules and directives at play that you need to take into account as well. But what I think, what I basically learned from this project is that you need to take a bird eyes view and try to data-fy your production, have some valid data points that you can work with. You can use IOT solutions that are very cheap and accessible and useful nowadays, to analyze the process. You can use simulation. You can do a process mining, you can do a lot of stuff in order to have an informed understanding of the trade-offs within your production, crystal clear understanding of the bottlenecks in your production. And at same time, while you're improving your product and sustainability impact for your customer taking care of compliance as well.
Alireza: Thank you so much. Yeah. I think that's really a valuable insight, Sam. I take the opportunity to say something about the responsibility that we have as manufacturers towards our customers as well. I was intrigued by what Iddo was saying about, they would like to make honest choices. So, it's the responsibility of the manufacturing company to somehow shed light on all the different impact factors that can be faced. And sustainability in our opinion, it's definitely a journey. It's not a destination as such. And what we've really tried to do is to, and I can use the analogy of a piano. The piano has seven octaves and 3D printing is a new technology. And we are building these octaves as we move along. And we want to provide these keys to the designers to be able to choose and pick the tune that they want to play for their audience, so that it sounds in harmony for them.
We would like along the way to provide as much information as possible so that they can make informed choices about why they are using 3D printing and for which parts of their end product they're using 3D printing for it to make sense. So, it's a complex topic. And I hope that this kind of collaboration can continue in the future so that we can do more research and create more insights that can help our customers to make informed choices so that their end customers eventually know more about the products that they are using. One of the next steps, for example, that we are taking in our journey is for example, adding a new material, which is bio-sourced and looking more into the topic of how the material is made, it's made from a plant source and how it has been farmed and what the impact of that is going to be on the manufacturing method. PA11 in specific is one of those topics that I know in our past discussions I have been introducing to annu. What is your take on these evolutions in the 3D printing industry for eyewear, Iddo?
Iddo: PA11, let's call it a relatively new. So, it's been around for a while and we've been looking into it and testing it. And we are so far very happy with the results. And I think there are two main things that make it very interesting for us. One is the fact that it has certain properties, which the PA12 does not have. It is for example, much more flexible, which is for our very specific type of product, an added value. It's much more difficult to break something which is more flexible. And the second thing is that it is, as you said, plant-based or bio-based, and then that plays in to this story of sustainability. And we see a lot of value in that. So, it is very difficult not to move towards this new material.
Alireza: Thank you. Sam, what's your opinion on this next evolution?
Sam: Well, I think from my side, I think there are tons of opportunities. I mean, the project was pioneering in a sense that it paved the way for several promising follow-up projects. And we've discussed that among ourselves and we should continue talking about it. One is for instance, feeding our analytics with the streaming data, we'd be using, we collected data, we validated data and we used the data for our analytics, but it would be far more accurate and timely to be focused on streaming data, it even can give us the opportunity to think about digital of the production line. And there are many, again, promising IOT solutions that can help us to push it to the next level. We also can transcend beyond the borders of a company.
So, we've been looking at within the company, within one production line, although pretty complex production line, but we can seek collaboration with supply chain network and see whether we can have even a more comprehensive view of the situation. Also, here that the project was in scope to several interesting factors by no means we have covered all factors. I see a lot of possibilities there as well. It only takes the aspiration and commitment from our side, I guess. Yeah, to start new journeys. By the way, you also can replicate the work. So, the same way that we hope to reach out to the public and inspire them to experiment and try out things and contribute to sustainability also within Materialize and it's partners and new settings can be used for this type of projects.
Alireza: Thank you so much, gentlemen, for joining me in this 3DP insights session. I really enjoyed hearing your insights about this topic of sustainability. And I hope that our listeners have been enjoying this too. We look forward to collaboration with both of you in the future. To our listeners, if today's topic has got you thinking, we have produced an accompanying guide on the topic of sustainability available from www.materialise.com/eyewear. Till next time.