As the world continues to grapple with sustainability challenges and supply chain disruptions, digital manufacturing, particularly 3D printing, has emerged as a potential solution for companies seeking to reduce their carbon footprint and maintain supply chain resiliency. However, many insiders expect market consolidation within the 3D printing industry in the coming years, as many startups struggle to find funding and established companies look for buying opportunities. Larger, more successful enterprises may absorb struggling companies as the industry experiences a slowdown in venture capital funding and the economy cools. One of these big and successful companies is undoubtedly Materialise. During AMUG, 3Printr.com had the opportunity to talk to Bryan Crutchfield, VP and General Manager of Materialise North America, about the industry’s state and the company’s future direction.
Materialise, a top-tier additive manufacturing solutions provider, is broadening its cloud-based 3D printing platform as part of its strategy to serve as the ‘neutral backbone’ of the 3D printing industry. The acquisition of Link3D a few years ago accelerated the development of Materialise’s cloud-native software. The company aims to establish an iOS-like platform for 3D printing, enabling the integration of competitive products and applications to ultimately provide customers with best-in-class workflow solutions. A recent example is the enhancement of Magics, the data and build preparation software, which now features increased connectivity with other software solutions. Integration with the CO-AM platform offers crucial traceability in the 3D printing process via a revision tree that records every action applied to a part or build. This traceability is vital for quality improvement and regulatory compliance in industries like aerospace. Moreover, the update integrates Magics with Materialise Machine Manager, allowing cloud-based management of the AM machine park and connected Build Processors. This enables seamless collaboration and ensures all processing parameters and build files are securely stored in the cloud, further improving traceability throughout the workflow.
Leadership in Market Consolidation
As the industry evolves and matures, Materialise’s commitment to being an open and neutral platform is poised to make it a key player in the 3D printing ecosystem while also positioning it as a leader in market consolidation.
“Materialise is well-equipped for the evolving 3D printing landscape, having deliberately maintained a robust financial balance sheet with more cash than debt. This situates the company advantageously to capitalize on opportunities, such as acquiring other firms that could benefit from Materialise’s expertise and resources,” states Bryan Crutchfield, VP and General Manager of Materialise North America.
Besides its strong financial standing, Materialise possesses a unique blend of manufacturing, medical, and software expertise, enabling them to deliver comprehensive solutions to clients across various sectors. This diverse experience has endowed the company with a solid engineering foundation and exposure to a wide range of applications.
“Growth in metal 3D printing, particularly in the medical field, is among the areas witnessing significant advancements. Uncovering the right applications and unlocking the potential of 3D printing for specific sectors, like aerospace and medical, necessitates a high level of interdisciplinary expertise to provide genuine value,” Crutchfield elaborates. “As the industry shifts toward a more decentralized production model, economies of scale and scope will become increasingly influential. Larger companies are likely to dominate the highly technical aspects of 3D printing, while smaller and medium enterprises may find success in more straightforward applications.”
Adapting to a Shifting Geopolitical Landscape
Crutchfield emphasizes that businesses must adapt to an evolving geopolitical climate and concentrate on constructing more resilient supply chains. Companies can unlock a more sustainable and efficient future by adopting 3D printing and digital manufacturing methods while preserving data integrity in a distributed manufacturing model.
“Making manufacturing machines and processes more sustainable and material production more resilient is essential. Companies are starting to integrate digital manufacturing techniques to minimize waste and optimize production. For example, our ACTech facility in Germany employs 3D printed sand-cast patterns to create castings for the automotive sector, assisting clients in enhancing their production efficiency”, explains Crutchfield. “To safeguard supply chains from disruptions, businesses are contemplating using 3D printing as a backup plan, storing parts on shelves for extended periods due to regulatory constraints. This strategy can help maintain supply chain resilience, particularly in industries with long-tail customers and regulatory requirements for spare parts. Nevertheless, with security and intellectual property concerns becoming increasingly significant, companies like Materialise are acquiring entities such as Identify3D to prioritize platform protection, secure data, and maintain its integrity.”
Furthermore, the company perceives substantial opportunities in the Asian market, particularly in countries like China. “While the region has been more government-driven, Materialise anticipates that commercial applications will emerge as the market matures.”, adds Crutchfield. “Materialise is actively collaborating with clients in Malaysia, Japan, China, Korea, and India”.
However, certain challenges persist, including lacking in-house technical expertise and talent competition within the additive industry. “Companies are vying to recruit experienced professionals who can help them implement 3D printing technologies effectively. Although trade schools and universities are catching up, the demand for skilled workers in the field continues to outstrip the supply,” Crutchfield concludes.
Materialise incorporates more than three decades of 3D printing experience into a range of software solutions and 3D printing services that empower sustainable 3D printing applications. Our open, secure, and flexible end-to-end solutions enable flexible industrial manufacturing and mass personalization in various industries — including healthcare, automotive, aerospace, eyewear, art and design, wearables, and consumer goods. Headquartered in Belgium and with branches worldwide, Materialise combines the largest group of software developers in the industry with one of the world’s largest and most complete 3D printing facilities