The World of 3D Printing and Additive Manufacturing – a newcomer’s observations

Two years ago, I became interested in a new phenomenon called ‘3D printing’. Having worked for international trade associations in printing and packaging since the 1990, I noticed that several of my associations’ members had started to explore the potential of 3D printing, both for their own processes and product development, as for commercial market opportunities.

Last year, I was invited by Ian Ferguson to join the Advisory Board of the 3D Printing Association, to help the organisation to develop into a member driven association serving common business needs of a rapidly emerging industry. And now, since June, it is our company’s challenge to take 3DPA to the next level. 

Additive manufacturing, which I have learned is the conventional business term, has been described as ‘the third industrial revolution’, ‘manufacturing re-invented’, or other adjectives referring to its ‘disruptive’ potential. With compound annual growth rates in excess of 25%, 3D printing is expected to have ten-folded its economic value globally between 2010 and 2020, to more than US$ 20 billion.

The technology has penetrated a variety of sectors ranging from automotive and aerospace, industrial and consumer products, medical and dental services, architecture and construction, the academic world as well as the arts and fashion community. In these sectors, 3D printing has proven its value as vehicle for designing, prototyping, tooling, moulding, casting, testing, presenting and researching products in unlimited and customised shapes and varieties.

The 3D printing world connects the best of different worlds. As a relative newcomer to the world of Additive Manufacturing, I herewith share some of my observations during the journey so far:

  • It applies 2D printing and coating technology to create 3D shapes
  • It is a family of manufacturing processes that has penetrated all sorts of product chains
  • It is the liaison between mass production and mass customisation
  • It challenges the concept of protected intellectual property in an ‘open source collaborative environment
  • It allows physical products to be transferred in digital form, as files, via the internet
  • It connects the established, corporate culture of industrial manufacturing with the dynamic, entrepreneurial, start-up spirit of a new generation of designers and pioneers that have grown up in the digital world
  • It enables local manufacturing in a connected global business environment not bothered by geographic or national boundaries.

In this hybrid environment, various platforms have been created to inform, exhibit or engage stakeholders as a vehicle for industry progress and individual benefit. In Europe, until recently, an independent, member driven industry platform connecting the different stakeholders to jointly work on common interests and objectives such as advocacy, creation of standards, promotion, education, R&D etc. was lacking.

At the beginning of 2015, 3DPA and Lejeune conducted an international internet survey, which gave us a good insight in possible wishes and needs among (potential) members. At a European stakeholder summit in Amsterdam held last February, the survey findings were validated and the first outlines of a European B2B association, its mission, vision, goals, objectives, structure and governance were defined.

The next challenge now is to create a critical mass. In this process, stakeholders from the AM business community are not only a target of member recruitment, they are especially invited to become part of the association’s programme and deliverables!!

Find out more on stand 1020 at Additive Manufacturing Europe in Amsterdam, or later shows this year. Or surf to www.I-AM-2017.com to share your outlook and expectations for 2017.

Jules Lejeune, The 3D Printing Association

The Hague, June 2016

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