Disruptive Insight editorial comment, Issue 2

Since publishing the first issue of Disruptive Insight last month, there have been a number of noticeable shifts across the additive manufacturing (AM) landscape. Of perhaps greatest significance is the acquisition by DMG MORI of 50.1 percent shares in German AM hardware vendor Realizer.

The coming together of these two German companies will strengthen both direct AM processes and hybrid additive and subtractive offerings. The (only just) majority shareholder in this deal, DMG Mori Aktiengesellschaft, is a prominent global manufacturer of computer numerical control (CNC) milling machines and has already developed hybrid hardware, namely the Lasertec 65, that combines a form of AM (direct energy deposition [DED]) with CNC milling capabilities.

Realizer, meanwhile, brings a direct metal powder bed AM process to the partnership, namely selective laser melting (SLM). Realizer’s 22-year history with this process is impressive and the early history—spanning 1995 to 2009—is closely aligned with that of MCP, and thus SLM Solutions (also based in Germany) and Renishaw (in the UK) through the acquisition of Machine Tool Technologies (MTT). This partnership exemplifies further consolidation of the AM industry, which is only going to ramp up over the next few years.

Consolidation of a more negative kind came via desktop 3D printer company MakerBot. The company announced further layoffs—30 percent of its workforce following two similar rounds last year. MakerBot has never been the ‘holy grail’ that parent company Stratasys hoped when it acquired the company in 2013. Will Stratasys now just cut its losses and consolidate the two companies completely? Particularly when you consider the positive developments coming from Stratasys, which most recently included the introduction of the F123 machines specifically for prototyping applications. The emphasis with these new 3D printers is making them more user-friendly via user interface (UI) and internal automation developments, together with improved operation speeds and increased reliability. In combination, this approach is designed to make 3D printing much more accessible for users.

Away from consolidation, it was heartening to witness some great news for Open Bionics, a company that continues to develop 3D-printed bionic hands for amputees. The company won the International UAE Robotics for Good Award in February and as a result was presented with a 1 million USD prize fund in Dubai, which Open Bionics asserts will help its mission to assist amputees across the globe.

Now to this issue of Disruptive Insight, which presents wide-ranging and insightful coverage of the AM scene from expert industry contributors.

Candice Majewski, a senior lecturer in Mechanical Engineering at Sheffield University has more than 15 years’ experience in the field of AM. She considers the role of universities in developing the skills required for driving industrial uptake of AM, both for the engineers of tomorrow and today. Without claiming to have all the answers, Candice’s approach is a foundation stone of the debate and actions that are required and raises some of the key issues.

This month’s feature interview has a focus on AM within the healthcare sector. I spoke at length with Katie Weimer, vice president (VP) medical devices healthcare at 3D Systems. Katie is as far removed from the marketing of 3D Systems as anyone I’ve met from the company. She is one of the most understated people, with practical and valuable insight into 3D printing from her 10-year career working directly with 3D software and AM technologies.

In terms of longevity in the AM sector, this month’s winner is contributor Phil Kilburn. With a diverse and hands-on career with AM that spans well over 20 years, Phil’s knowledge and experience is extensive. I got some initial insight into what Phil and the team at LPW Technology are working on at the MAPP launch event at the end of January from a presentation given by the company’s chief executive officer (CEO) Phil Carroll. It was compelling, and after a visit to the company’s HQ facility in Daresbury in the UK, even more so. Phil was keen to share deeper insights exclusively with Disruptive readers into material traceability for industrial users of AM, specifically users of laser powder bed processes. If you are such a user, this is a must read. It also covers some of the cost issues that often get swept under the carpet.  

As ever, if you have any comments—good, bad or anywhere in between—or wish to contribute to upcoming issues of Disruptive Insight, please feel free to contact me directly.

About Rachel Park

Rachel is a passionate advocate of additive manufacturing/3D printing technologies and the industry that has sprung up around it. However, as the hype and hyperbole has gathered momentum, her aim is always to offer a reasoned voice in the midst of inflated expectations and to cut through the noise in order to provide a realistic outlook of how things are.