Materialise: Making 3D Printing Meaningful and Worthwhile

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It is interesting that 3D printing started gaining traction only in recent years when it is a technology that dates back to more than three decades. The working prototype of a 3D printer was there since the late 80s, but it was not able to produce something that is usable in the practical sense. We began to value and discuss 3D printing widely only after we had the solution that enabled printers to produce usable quality parts in mass.

Today, 3D printing is increasingly applied in manufacturing. It is a technology with the potential of transforming entire industries. Leading manufacturers in the automotive, aerospace and consumer goods are turning to 3D Printing as they recognized the advantage in design optimizations and the potential in creating new and significant business opportunities in new markets.

With new materials, better and faster machines, and increased automation, 3D printing is not just for prototyping technology but a relevant alternative and complementary manufacturing technology for final products. With continued innovation and increasing adoption, we could anticipate a progressive industrial revolution through 3D printing.

APAC Business Headlines had a chance to talk to one of the most prominent solution providers, Materialise, that has been playing a crucial role in the progress of the industry. In 1990, Wilfried Vancraen (the current CEO), who had earlier seen a 3D printer in Germany, founded Materialise as a spin-off of the University of Leuven, Belgium. Before the days of smartphones, he was able to envision the future potential of 3D printing and started the company to create a truly end-to-end digital manufacturing process:  from design to the actual printing. The company’s software, Materialise Magics, has been significant for the industry. The software enables users to perform all the modeling and data preparation steps involved in 3D printing.

Materialise Magics: A significant Solution for the Industry

One of the biggest challenges for the industry was the difficulty of making files readable for the 3D printer. Materialise was able to come up with a solution for that. The patented software of the company, Materialise Magics, can perform the designing of model and preparation of data that is readable for the printer. Mr. Vancraen recalls the innovative process of the solution: “With a small team we 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 decided to share it with the rest of the industry.” Today, Materialise Magics is considered the benchmark for data preparation software in the market. Many players in medical, aeronautics and automotive industries are utilizing the software to create prototypes and end-use products.

Widening the Accessibility for 3D Printing

Early on, a big challenge for players involved in 3D printing, especially for the smaller and mid-sized service bureaus, is that they are not able to make a profit because of the cost of the high operations. This is where the simulation software of Materialise comes in. Materialise’s software allows manufacturers to scale their operations and increase their profitability and productivity by addressing the main cost drivers: manual labor, materials, and machines. The new Materialise simulation module is focused on optimizing the production process without the need for expert knowledge. It helps to drive down the primary cost and increases productivity and efficiency. With the introduction of the software, available as a Materialise Magics module, the company is making simulation easy to manage and accessible to a wider audience.

Actively Involved in the Progress of 3D Printing

When we look back at the evolution of 3D printing technology, we observed the overcoming of fundamental challenges that include the production of meaningful products and scaling up the production. In the initial period, the challenge was to make the technology work in the practical sense. It was not able to produce quality parts that are usable for a practical purpose. Once that was solved, the challenge shifted to making the technology worthwhile—making it affordable enough so that it is applied widely.

Having realized, early on, the potential of 3D printing, Materialise has been actively involved in the evolution and progress of the industry by way of solving the fundamental challenges that hindered the advancement of the industry.

Experiencing the True transformative Power of 3D Printing Depends on Us

To truly experience the transformative power of 3D printing, Materialise is calling everyone to be more open to the application and adoption of the technology. Recent developments in Additive Manufacturing have focused on building better, faster, larger and more capable machines and on extending the range of new materials. However, building better machines and increasing the manufacturing capabilities are not enough to unleash the real transformative power of 3D Printing. Mr. Vancraen rightfully points out, “The key to unlocking the next industrial transformation will be our true understanding of which applications benefit most from 3D printing technology.” He says, “Don’t ask what 3D printing can do, but what it can do for you.”

The technology is already working; it already can scale up the production to a significant level. Rather than waiting for 3D printing technology to mature, we should focus on the applications now, as Mr. Vancraen simply puts, “The technology is there, but it is the applications that will drive the real transformation.”

Quotes:

Materialise’s software allows manufacturers to scale their operations and increase their profitability and productivity by addressing the main cost drivers: manual labor, materials, and machines.

Materialise has been actively involved in the evolution and progress of the industry by way of solving the fundamental challenges that hindered the advancement of the industry.

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