1990
Fried

A Man, a Machine, a Mission

From the very beginning, Wilfried Vancraen had a clear goal in mind. He knew 3D Printing could make a difference in the world, but it had to be used effectively and responsibly. Starting out with one Stereolithography machine in a small office at the Catholic University of Leuven, Fried started developing Materialise’s first applications and 3D printing software.

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1992

Mapping the Anatomy in 3D

With his background in Biomechanics, Fried saw an obvious link between sliced image data and 3D printing technology. Using 3D Printing in healthcare was an obvious step – together with Bart Van der Schueren, one of Materialise’s first employees and now CTO, the team created specific software that would help Materialise produce anatomical models for doctors using CT image data. Materialise Mimics was born, and we later introduced it on the market so that other companies and hospitals could benefit from it as well.

Tackling the First Hiccups with In-House Software

From the very start, one particular problem kept resurfacing: the difficulty of making files readable for the 3D printer. The only technology which was available at the time was Stereolithography, which still had a long way to go in terms of user-friendliness. Our current Executive Vice President, Johan Pauwels, then a freshly graduated student, rolled up his shirt sleeves and set about creating software that would make files 3D printable, as well as implementing features such as support generation to optimize designs for printing. It worked so well for us that we thought we might as well share it with the rest of the industry; and today Materialise Magics is a benchmark for data preparation software in the market.

1993

Printing Detailed One-Off Components with Vacuum Casting

Vacuum Casting opened fascinating new possibilities for product development. 3D Printing was a great deal less sophisticated then than it is today, and at the time there was a demand for small prototype series made with higher quality materials. The technique involves creating one master part – which we did using Stereolithography – and then casting several copies of it with a silicone mold. By combining 3D Printing and the more traditional Vacuum Casting, Materialise was able to start quickly producing small batches of 20-30 plastic components of the highest possible quality with all the design freedom of 3D Printing.

1995

Stereolithography Printing … in Multiple Colors

With the introduction of color printing, it was possible to make each anatomical model even more personal and informative. We were the first company in history to provide multiple colors in a single Stereolithography model, and this technology allowed us to highlight certain parts of the anatomy such as nerves or tumors, making it easier for surgeons to plan operations. 

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1996

Supporting Dental Surgery from Digital Planning to Drill Guides

From anatomical models, we progressed to actually making 3D-printed guides which could be used during surgery to show surgeons exactly where they needed to cut and drill the bone to apply implants. We focused on Dental healthcare in particular, and created Materialise SimPlant software, which allowed the surgeon to virtually plan their surgery before even looking at the patient – and then based on this virtual anatomical model, we would 3D print the customized drill guides required for the operation. 

1997

NextDay: Our Online Ordering Service before ‘Online’ Existed

In 1997, the internet was taking its first fledgling steps into mainstream consciousness. Ever the tech geeks, we immediately saw how it could be a useful tool for our prototyping and manufacturing services. As one of the first online ordering systems, Materialise NextDay was launched (later becoming Materialise OnSite), allowing our customers to instantly send over data, which we would then turn into prints and ship by the next day. We automated most of the production process and seriously optimized our internal production capacity – all of which allowed us to get prints to the customer in record speed.

1998

Enabling Functional Prototype Testing with Laser Sintering

We acquired our first Laser Sintering printers, which enabled us to move into a whole new world of different applications. Our aim was to produce truly functional prototypes for product testing, from one-off models to small series, using our new technology to create meaningful applications of 3D Printing.

2000

Mammoth Machines Raise the Bar for Large Prints

Sometimes, size really does matter. In the year 2000, printer bed sizes on the market simply weren’t large enough for the projects our customers were commissioning, particularly prototypes for the automotive industry. So we decided to build our very own Mammoth Stereolithography machines. Currently among of the largest machines for Stereolithography, the Mammoth printer can produce an entire car dashboard in one build.

RSM Revolutionizes the Hearing Aid Industry

Customizing hearing aids used to be quite the labor-intensive process, and production was slow and expensive. Together with Phonak, we developed Rapid Shell Modeling software, which automated the design process of each patient-specific hearing aid shell until it took under 10 minutes to create a shell. The file is then printed out, creating a hearing aid which perfectly fits the customer. Our co-creative partnership changed an entire industry, as 99% of the world’s hearing aids are now made with 3D Printing.

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2003

.MGX Enters the Design Scene with Bold New Creations

.MGX by Materialise set out to prove that 3D Printing could not only be used for prototypes, but for sophisticated end-use products too – from lamps to furniture and sculptures. Designs like the iconic One_Shot by designer Patrick Jouin also explored new possibilities afforded by 3D Printing, such as integrated hinges, and woke the manufacturing industry up to the fact that 3D Printing was now capable of real manufacturing and ready to make the shift.

Art and Fashion

Filaments and Functional Models: FDM Comes to Materialise

In December 2003, we brought Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) printing into our production facilities. Although slower, FDM offered parts with a high degree of strength and structural stability, using true production-grade thermoplastics like ABS, which gave the technology certain advantages over Laser Sintering. By expanding our variety of technologies on offer, we were able to serve our customers better while improving and adapting our software to include this new technology.

2004

Editing in STL Becomes a Reality

Before Materialise 3-matic came along, editing files in STL (the most common file format read by 3D printers) was tricky at best. Engineers needed to go back to their CAD program, make the changes there, and then convert to STL again. It was just as time-consuming as it sounds and in 2004 we commercialized Materialise 3-matic, which enabled users throughout the 3D printing industry to edit in STL directly.

Materialise OnSite: A Step Up from NextDay

By 2004, the internet had matured considerably. We knew that it was time to expand our online ordering services to reflect the needs of our customers. Enter Materialise OnSite, the new version of NextDay, which allowed the customer to virtually follow the process of their order. OnSite also offered our entire range of 3D printing technologies, as opposed to just Stereolithography.

2006

RapidFit: The Game-Changer in Automotive Tooling

A good prototype should mimic the end part as closely as possible. But while shipping larger prototypes to our customers in the automotive industry, we were faced with the challenge of getting these parts to their destination without deforming. We came up with an innovative solution of 3D-printed jigs and fixtures which held the parts in place, and which we could adapt to each different build. This evolved to become RapidFit, which now combines these jigs and fixtures in one standardized system which is used for quality testing in the automotive sector.

Titanium Skull Implants That Act Like Bone

We acquired OBL, a company specialized in the creation of custom CMF implants. Paired with our expertise in 3D Printing, we were able to start manufacturing 3D-printed cranio-maxillofacial implants in titanium, which enabled the surgeon to achieve a much more anatomically correct final result than with a standard implant. The intricate porous structure, made possible with 3D Printing’s freedom of design, allows the implant to behave like natural bone and mimics its mechanical and thermal properties; even facilitating bone ingrowth. This significantly increased the level of comfort for patients undergoing cranio-maxillofacial after surgery.

2007

Less Invasive, More Personalized Surgical Knee Guides

After the success of SimPlant, it made sense to expand Medical 3D Printing to the field of orthopedics. We started printing out surgical guides for knee surgeries in particular, which would enable surgeons to cut and drill bone through precisely calculated openings. This helped make surgery more precise and predictable, leading to improved patient outcomes.

Simplifying Cranio-Maxillofacial Surgery and Introducing Dedicated Clinical Engineers

What we did for knee surgery we then did for cranio-maxillofacial surgery. Recognizing the complexity of ordering anatomical models at the time, Materialise introduced a simpler web-based system that revolutionized CMF. Users were now able to visualize the patient’s anatomy in 3D and then order the relevant model with Materialise SurgiCase. We also introduced dedicated clinical engineers, who work together with doctors on each specific case to design the necessary guides and implants.

2008

Automated Support Structure Speeds Up 3D Printing Production

To further improve the 3D printing process, we created Materialise e-Stage to automate the design of support structures for Stereolithography models, increasing efficiency. Again, the idea for this software module sprung from an obstacle we encountered on our own production floor. As our Stereolithography offer expanded, we saw that it would not be feasible to keep hiring extra staff just to create support structures manually. So we challenged our software developers to come up with a program which created these structures automatically – helping us and our customers save time and use less material as a result.

i.materialise Brings 3D Printing to the Public

At this point, 3D Printing was growing outside of the manufacturing industry and the first desktop 3D printers were starting to get attention. We wanted to make it possible for anyone and everyone to print their ideas using professional-quality equipment, so we launched a brand new online platform called i.materialise. People with an eye for design and a head full of ideas were now able to create, share, and sell designs from a single platform.

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Presenting Patient-Specific Hip Implants

From anatomical models and surgical guides, we progressed to patient-specific implants for the hip. In challenging surgeries, these implants help patients walk again. We focused on complex hip surgeries with our aMace implants. The implants fit the patient’s anatomy exactly and are designed with a specialized structure that encourages bone ingrowth.

2010

Crystallizing Motion with Iris van Herpen’s 3D-Printed Dresses

Dutch fashion designer Iris van Herpen launched her Crystallization collection, working together with Materialise and designer Daniel Widrig to create one of the first 3D-printed fashion pieces ever to appear on a runway. We would go on to create several more 3D-printed dresses with her, exploring the possibilities of unlimited freedom of design and material properties to demonstrate to the world what 3D Printing was truly capable of.

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2011

Linking Computer to Printing Machine

There are countless different printers, made by different printer manufacturers. Each printer runs on its own specific software, created by the printer manufacturer. Of course, if anyone was starting a 3D printing production facility with more than two 3D printing technologies, it became very complex to connect to these different printers with a computer. We tackled this issue by developing the Materialise Build Processor, which enables different printers to link directly in one program: Materialise Magics. There are currently processors for more than 20 different 3D printing machine manufacturers.

Achieving a Groundbreaking Full Face Transplant

With a team of three other surgeons, Prof. Philip Blondeel at the University Hospital of Ghent successfully performed the first full face transplant in Belgium. This procedure was extremely complex due to the fact that until a donor was available, surgeons couldn’t start planning the operation. Within 24 hours of receiving a donor, the surgery was in part made possible by the use of digital imaging software ProPlan CMF and 3D-printed anatomical models and guides used to plan and execute the surgery.

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2012

Keeping the Factory Floor Organized with Streamics

At this point, the 3D printing industry was maturing and starting to work with other, highly regulated, industries. As we started producing series of end-use products, we were faced with the problem of keeping everything traceable and organized. Materialise Streamics was launched as our solution to providing an ever higher degree of quality control, traceability and automation for the 3D printing process. Instead of machine operators having to walk around our facility to check which machines were free, there was now one centralized computer system with all the information. Soon enough, this solution was also helping our customers to streamline their own 3D printing production floors.

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2014

Materialise Goes Public

We announced our IPO on NASDAQ on June 25th, 2014. This decision helped us to expand our services, enabling us to help a much wider range of customers and contribute to the growth of the 3D printing industry as a whole.

2015

Making a Difference/A Difference in Making at BOZAR

By the time 2015 rolled around, the 3D printing industry was starting to experience a post-hype hangover. But although the idea of 3D Printing in mainstream consciousness could be misleading, we knew what the technology was really capable of. As part of the second edition of the Materialise World Conference, an event we organized to stimulate discussion about 3D Printing and awareness, we also held a 3D printing exhibition at the BOZAR museum to educate and inform the public, exploring how 3D Printing is helping individuals, enabling social change and contributing positively to the environment.

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Looking Good: 3D Prints You Can Wear

Constantly on the lookout for new 3D printing applications with meaning, we produced our first collection of 3D-printed eyewear with Hoet Design Studio. We used our technology to create new, unconventional designs with enhanced customer comfort, with the Cabrio collection marking the beginning of our entry into 3D-printed wearables.

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Reaching New Heights in the Aeronautics and Aerospace Market

With an EN9100 and EASA.21G certification under our belt, in addition to the ISO 9001 certification we already had, we were authorized to deliver 3D-printed end-use parts to customers such as Airbus, helping them to reduce weight and operational costs for their aircraft. Our ongoing focus on quality systems from day one made the introduction of 3D Printing into such highly regulated industries a possibility, and cemented our steps into certified end-part manufacturing.

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Expanding Our Metal Printing Capacity to New Horizons

Metal 3D Printing became the latest cutting-edge printing technology on the market and soon enough we expanded our own metal capacity, which had begun earlier with the production of titanium implants for our medical customers. We were now able to start offering aluminum printing as well to our industrial customers, and opened an entire metal production facility in Bremen, Germany, on the very same location that our CEO saw his first 3D printer all those years ago. The knowledge we gained in this facility also helped us to create specialized software solutions for Metal 3D Printing.

Materialise Boosts Process Control

Process control has always been important to us, but with our entry into new markets it became a top priority. We integrated the Materialise Control Platform into our services – a software-driven hardware solution which is embedded inside the 3D printer and which gives the user an even higher degree of control over machine parameters and performance.

2016

Materialise Adds Multi Jet Fusion to the Factory for 3D Printing

We were one of the first companies to acquire, and start testing, the new Multi Jet Fusion 3D printing technology. The printer combines powder-based technology with a jetting agent that fuses together the particles instead of a laser. Powered by our Build Processor software, the technology enabled us to start offering functional prototypes and small series with excellent surface quality and low lead times.

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Transforming the Eyewear Industry with Yuniku

Working together with lens manufacturer Hoya, we introduced a radical new business model for eyewear which puts the wearer at the center of the picture. Customers are 3D scanned and their eyewear frames are customized for their unique facial anatomy and lifestyle, while preserving the ideal lens orientation.

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Further Expanding Competence Centers Worldwide

In our continuous quest towards excellence, we introduced a brand new competence center in Malaysia, which will research and develop new applications for DLP printing technology. Along with seven other competence centers worldwide – which each focus on a different technology – we aim to accelerate the development of our own expertise as well as that of the 3D printing industry in general.

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