Oct 6, 2016
As CEO of Ultimaker, the leading 3D printer manufacturer, I have a unique view of the evolving 3D printing market. The coming year will be an exciting one for our industry and I am pleased to offer my insights into what’s ahead in 2017 and beyond.
A Changing Industry
The 3D printing industry is maturing and more companies now have an incentive to use the technology because they are recognizing how it can transform their business. Up until recently, 3D printing mainly focused on prototyping and creating initial mock-ups – but now, it has become an alternative way to produce tools and even manufacture customized end goods.
We’re always in direct contact with users in all kinds of domains including education and global automotive and engineering brands like Airbus, Apple, Google, Tesla, MIT, CalTech – to gain some insight into how they use Ultimaker machines.
We see that the scope of the desktop 3D printer has broadened immensely and for quite some applications, they are delivering the same high-quality results as industrial-grade 3D printers, but only at a fraction of the cost.
Material and Software Development
The 3D printing industry is experiencing a significant expansion in terms of material choice and software development. In the early days, we had to solely rely on PLA and ABS, but now the range of 3D printing filaments is growing rapidly. Ultimaker now offers a variety of industrial plastics, including Nylon, CPE+, PC and TPU 95A, which enable users to achieve an even better range of printing results.
The development of software has also changed the way people use 3D printers. Apps present even more scope for creativity, and creating a network of printers in a print farm setting enables greater output. These improvements in software allow for remote 3D printing, higher uptime of machines, better production planning, and in the end, more reliable and knowledgeable manufacturing.
The Greater Appeal of 3D Printing
There is a broadening appeal for additive manufacturing by companies, and while it is still a relatively new tool for most enterprises, it’s an opportunity to be a step ahead of the competition.
In terms of how businesses are getting started, they initially invest in a few 3D printers and, over time, these machines become an integral part of the company’s main workflow. They allow for production of customized end-use parts and goods for manufacturing – in a very cost- and time-effective way.
The technology is not just for established companies – it can also prove invaluable for start-ups and entrepreneurs. 3D printing enables them to test the potential of a new product, with reduced financial risk.
At present, reliability and consistency are priorities for companies using 3D printers. Businesses are starting to prioritize strength, durability, or a good surface finish, depending on the use of the end product. Adaptability is also becoming an increasing concern – with enterprises seeking 3D printers that can adjust to suit their requirements.
Customer needs are changing too. In the future, the focus will be not only on prototyping, but also tooling and low volume manufacturing, due largely to the significant cost reduction and flexibility of the new technology. The speed of production also makes the process more effective.
The great thing about additive manufacturing is that it’s versatile and offers so many different possibilities. Today, it can be integrated with other systems (like ERP and PDM) which can improve the workflow of an entire company.
Ultimaker’s Growing Success
Ultimaker already has a global distribution and reseller network in place, which serves the most important markets around the world. Our open approach, combined with our adherence to the original Ultimaker philosophy, has enabled us to enjoy considerable growth in this emerging market. By keeping a firm eye on the ever-changing industry, and honing our own practices, I believe Ultimaker will continue to flourish. You have to provide customers with a complete solution and that includes a wider range of materials and software, and the right level of support and service.
The open-source community is another unique aspect of the company – and not only provides invaluable feedback and inspiration, but also allows for greater collaboration and further innovation.
Ultimaker in 5 Years
We at Ultimaker are geared up for growth, but we also will not lose focus on who we are, nor what matters to our customers. Ultimaker is continually looking for new partners and opportunities to collaborate – and are not just focused on internal progression, but also on contributing to the progression of the industry as a whole.
We’ll keep bringing new machines to the market if they are relevant and add value – for as long as it serves the needs of the customer. Without going into specifics, we’ll certainly make it a priority to enable our customers to print far more complex products in the future.
By adopting additive manufacturing, companies can move beyond prototyping, and use the technology to streamline production, and achieve better efficiency in manufacturing.