Last month, one of the biggest 3D printing events, Formnext, took place in Frankfurt, Germany. Highlighted in this blog are some of our key takeaways from the event with regard to innovation hot spots.
The incorporation of 3D printing startups slowed down.
As we have discussed previously, 3D printing has been one of the areas that drove the emergence of most new companies. The 3D printing space is getting more saturated, and the startup showcases were quite limited compared to previous years. Newly incorporated startups to monitor include:
- Gen3D, founded in 2018, developed software to optimize part design for additive manufacturing. The user uploads a 3D CAD file to the company's software and can change parts' features using click-and-drag 3D editing tools. While the concept promises faster design optimization, it is based on trial and error at the moment and does not have integrated simulation tools.
- Laser Melting Innovations, founded in 2017, is a spinoff of FH Aachen University of Applied Sciences. The company has developed a lower-cost alternative to metal powder bed fusion 3D printers (at around €200,000), but as it does not have integrated quality control sensors, it can be regarded as a metal 3D printer for beginners.
- Meltio, founded in 2019, is a joint venture of Additec and Sicnova. It has revealed two products: a metal 3D printer with a small build volume and one deposition module that can be integrated with other manufacturing systems. The differentiating claim of the company is the ability to build parts using both wire and powder feedstock using a lower-cost hardware compared to incumbents.
- Oqton, founded in 2017, has developed a factory operating system to integrate engineering software with manufacturing hardware. This system is claimed to capture real-time data from the production environment and generates insights to optimize production workflows using AI. The product is similar to 3YourMind's manufacturing execution software.
Multinational material companies lead the 3D printing materials innovation.
BASF, Clariant, Covestro, DSM, Evonik, Henkel, Huntsman, Lubrizol, Mitsubishi Chemical, and Solvay are active in the space through internal innovation, acquisitions, and/or partnerships. At Formnext, they released new 3D printing materials that 1) are primarily marketed for specific end-use applications and 2) have higher performance compared to existing 3D printing materials.
- For the former case, footwear has been one of the most targeted industries for these companies. With several of them showcasing footwear midsole 3D printing using their own materials, almost every major material supplier currently offers a polyurethane-based material.
- For the latter, some materials are released with no single end use in mind but designed for broader use in demanding industrial applications. Examples are Clariant and Henkel's fire-smoke-toxicity (FST)-safe materials to be used for railway, aerospace, and automotive interiors as well as other industrial applications with stringent FST certification requirements.
- For both cases, materials companies continue to partner with 3D printing technology developers for material development. Examples include partnerships of Mitsubishi Chemical with atum3D, Evonik with Voxeljet, DSM with German RepRap, and Henkel with Origin.
Both pure-play software developers and 3D printing hardware manufacturers continue to develop software solutions to improve manufacturing execution.
Software innovation in 3D printing space is not new. In previous years, we saw several companies promoting their "workflow traceability" products, and we stated that although these are vital to secure data transfer, they are too early to make a big impact to the constantly changing 3D printing space.
- Among these software startups, innovation focus has shifted from "secure data transfer" software to "interoperability" and "manufacturing execution" software. For example, Autodesk and Ansys announced a partnership for engineering workflow interoperability for faster new product development. Meanwhile, MES developers like 3YourMind and Link3D have experienced increased momentum. However, this space is still ripe for innovation.
- Hardware companies including Velo3D (Assure), Desktop Metal, and Xerox (new entrant to the 3D printing space) are developing their own software tools. While offering own software might add value in terms of quality assurance, it can be a limiting factor for adoption for those (especially service bureaus) that use other commercial 3D printing suites.
3D printing can both enable new applications and enhance established applications, but it is not likely to be used for mass production in the next five years. The innovation trends compiled here illustrate the hot spots of innovation, but as the cost and performance of 3D printed parts are dependent on the use case, each new application will need to develop its unique manufacturing process and economics. Finally, with a combination of software, hardware, and materials innovation, we will continue to see complete solutions for proven applications in aerospace, dental, medical, and some other emerging applications in the footwear, railway, and automotive industries.
For complete insight into our key takeaways from this event, be sure to check out our analyst insight.
- Analyst Insight: 3D printing innovation hot spots identified at Formnext 2019
- Report: Moving Polymer 3D Printing From Prototyping to Production Through Partnerships (Members Only)