To create those amazing custom products having a versatile and powerful 3D printer (or several) comes in handy. 3D printers are at the heart of the 3D printing industry, and naturally play a central role in how businesses develop custom product concepts. So, who do you ask when you want to know something about the machines that fuel customization? We talked to Matthias Steinbusch, Manger Sales at voxeljet, about changing industries, challenges faced by businesses, and the role of voxeljet’s printing systems in this next industrial revolution.
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Which industries have been most altered by the introduction of 3D printing?
Any industry that has a particularly strong connection with design has seen a significant change. For example, design studios now have 3D printers to model their ideas rather than relying on conventional means. Similarly, in model building, we can clearly see a transition from strictly artisanal to more digital processes.
More specifically, I don’t think any industry has been as significantly impacted by 3D printing as aeronautics.
In the next few years, which industries do you predict will be fundamentally changed by 3D printing technology?
I think we’ll see a broader adoption of 3D printing across many industries, especially for the production of end products. It’s not just about prototyping anymore.
I expect aeronautics to be a leader in the adoption of 3D printing technology. It’s an industry that has already begun testing small batch production of parts, and it’s very likely that 3D printing will only be further integrated into the production processes. It’s quite a broad term, but I also think we can expect to see changes in mechanical engineering. Driven by e-mobility, there will be a lot of potential for 3D printing to be used to produce things like battery casings for automobiles or other electrically powered machinery. These are typically very complex structures, which are manufactured much more easily with the help of 3D printing.
Generally, I think that most industries are standing on the cusp of a major transition, and for the moment we are working towards bringing the 3D wave to all industries.
What role do you think customization and product configuration will play in future AM business models?
So far, I think many businesses, particularly in the B2B sector, haven’t yet realized the opportunities for custom product creation, because many still act according to old habits. That said, I think within the next 5 – 10 years the landscape could look quite different.
When it comes to consumer products however, we can already see that configuration and customization play a very strong role. Not only does everyone want their own personal products, but there is the opportunity to cater to specific needs and tastes. You can see this very well with products like glasses or jewelry.
What is the most significant challenge that companies face in the adoption of 3D printing?
In Germany, there is not a single degree or apprenticeship program that has 3D printing as its central focus. This means that young people are not only unaware of the career opportunities, but also aren’t trained to understand how these new technologies can be used for business.
This knowledge gap has pretty serious consequences for businesses. Because individuals lack the training, the approach many businesses take towards 3D printing is completely off. Many businesses believe that they can use 3D printing to simply replace existing production processes, but instead they should be asking themselves how to integrate this technology into existing structures.
This misunderstanding extends into how businesses approach product creation with 3D printing. For example, say a business manufactures chairs. Right now, many businesses ask: what is the cost of the chair we always make when we reproduce it with 3D printing? But, this isn’t the right question. Instead they should be asking: how can we adapt our chair to leverage the potential of 3D printing? How can we use 3D printing to create a chair that is more robust, less expensive, or of course customizable?
How does your company contribute to the 3D printing revolution? Define your role and competitive advantage.
Our printer systems are definitely our biggest contribution.
When it comes to production with polymer, we offer the biggest printer volumes. This of course means that businesses can realize projects with our printers that just aren’t possible with other machines. Their size also makes our printer systems extremely versatile. They can be used to print one large object, several middle-sized objects, or even for serial production. Our systems offer a degree of flexibility that competitors can’t match.
We are also helping our clients improve the efficiency of their processes by offering printed forms. We developed a method for printing sand to create castable sand molds. Traditionally, manufacturers had to first create a model from plastics, wood, or metal. Then they used the model to create a sand mold, and finally they were ready for casting. Our process saves on time and cost.
What are the next trends you expect to see in the 3D printing market in 2017? / In the next 3 years?
That’s always a tricky question, because things change so quickly. However, I predict that within the next few years we will see an increase in material variety for 3D printing. 3D printing is also going to get faster, much faster.
In combination, these materials and improved print times will make 3D printing attractive for more businesses, which will mean market growth. At the moment, the 3D printing industry is sitting around $6 billion and is projected to grow to approximately $20 billion by 2020.
I could also see a surge in home 3D printers. Like inkjet printers, maybe there was a time when it was uncommon to have one, but at some point, they became household items. But, to be honest that is probably a way off still.
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Image 1: 3D printed lamp. Source: voxeljet
Image 2: 3D printer system. Source: voxeljet