3D patent map - UK IPO

Introducing Bit by Bit Visitor Gabriele Montelisciani

Gabriele Montelisciani has just joined the Bit by Bit project as a visitor for the next two months. In this guest post, Gabriele introduces himself and the work that he will do during his visit to Cambridge.

Gabriele
Bit by Bit visitor Gabriele Montelisciani

I’m a PhD student in Management and Industrial Engineering at the University of Rome “Tor Vergata”, in formal partnership with the University of Pisa. I have a Master’s degree in Management Engineering, with specialisation in the fields of Innovation and Business Processes Management. My research interests include: methods and tools for early stage innovation and creativity; collaborative design; sustainable innovation and development; Internet of Things, and business modeling and entrepreneurship.

I’m part of the team of the organizational team of the University of Pisa’s Technology Transfer program for entrepreneurship education and startups creation called PhDplus. I’m also a founding member of the organization Fablab Pisa, a member of the Pisa Living Lab, and a member of the International Review Committee of the International Conference on Engineering, Technology and Innovation (ICE Conference).

During the two months that I’m visiting the Centre for Technology Management, I will support the “Bit by Bit” project group by investigating the evolution of additive manufacturing technologies and business models for desktop application. I’ll explore how the patent landscape is evolving in relation to open innovation initiatives.

The field of additive manufacturing has rapidly evolved in the last decade. The sector is facing a particular phenomenon whereby the concept of open innovation, carried out by the Makers movement, has arisen in opposition to the protection of innovation (patents), carried out by big players. The consequence is that the patent landscape is changing.

Low cost 3D printing devices have begun to reach individual consumers following the expiry of important patents related to the most common 3D printing technologies (i.e. fused deposition modeling technologies). This phenomenon generated an increased interest from incumbents in this market, and it is of particular interest to investigate how they are planning to protect the actual and future value in terms of intellectual property.

The research methodology I’ll employ during my investigation is based on three main steps:

  1. Analysis of patent databases and data interpretation;
  2. Crosscheck to sector experts to validate the results obtained;
  3. Final reporting.

I welcome any suggestions or comments on this research activity. Please contact me at gm512@cam.ac.uk.

Image source: http://www.ipo.gov.uk/blogs/ipofacto/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2013/11/topo-map.png

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Interaction of materials and equipment: barriers and enablers to technological development

One of the most important aspects of industrial emergence that has been seen in earlier work is the interaction between supply and demand. For the development of new technologies to occur there must be some kind of pull from the market. This usually begins in niche markets, which although not often very large, provide the early revenues necessary for the technology to be improved and demonstrated. Such niche markets are of particular importance to early stage ventures, which cannot depend on other product lines for revenues as they attempt to establish a presence in new markets.

There are also important interactions within the supply-side, with the creation of a functioning value chain necessary for demand to be met. During the early stages of an industry, such value chains are rather simple, with firms needing to be vertically integrated in order to ensure that all stages are performed. Then as the industry begins to emerge and its financial viability becomes apparent, specialist firms take on roles within the value chain.

It is interesting to look at the 3D printing industry because there has been a need for the equipment and materials to be developed in combination so that new applications can be developed and new markets entered. Focusing now on the materials aspect of the history of the industry, we are looking to answer the following questions in our research:

  •  How has the development of new materials enabled the emergence of 3D printing technologies?
  • How has the availability of materials affected technological development?
  • What differences have there been in the development and application of polymer filaments, resins and powders, metal powders and other materials?
  • What challenges have companies faced in terms of materials supply?
  • How have companies responded to these challenges?

Previous work on the supply-demand interaction has been conducted in the commercial inkjet printing industry (see this report and journal article for reference). That work considered the interplay of printheads, inks and print systems development with market demand. The study highlighted the important role that entrepreneurial agency played in the commercialisation of commercial inkjet printing technologies, as well as how demonstrations had reduced uncertainty and led to an improvement in investor and customer confidence. This earlier work in commercial inkjet printing provides the theoretical foundation as we begin to investigate the role of materials development in the emergence of 3D printing technologies.

Relating to our third question, we wonder if there will be a substantial difference between polymer-based and metal-based applications. Polymer powders and resins have needed to be developed for 3D printing application while many metal powders already exist and are used in other applications. In commercial inkjet printing, specialist inks needed to be developed for the  printheads to operate. This meant that there was a need for printhead developers to convince ink developers that there was going to be a significant market for the inks and that it was financially attractive for investment to be made in the formulation of new inks. Has it been a similar case in any of the 3D printing technologies? We’ll report our findings in due course.

Image source: http://3dprintinginsider.com/3d-systems-and-arcam-could-benefit-from-new-low-cost-titanium-powder_b14359

EPSRC Centre for Innovative Manufacturing in Additive Manufacturing

Visit to the EPSRC Centre for Innovate Manufacturing in Additive Manufacturing

On 28 April the Bit by Bit team travelled to Nottingham to meet members of the Executive Team at the EPSRC Centre for Innovate Manufacturing in Additive Manufacturing, which is hosted by the Additive Manufacturing and 3D Printing Research Group (3DPRG) at the University of Nottingham.

For this visit the Bit by Bit project team of Tim Minshall, Letizia Mortara, Simon Ford and Dominik Deradjat were joined by Ronan Daly and Ching-Hsien Chen, colleagues from the Inkjet Research Centre at IfM. At Nottingham the group met Prof. Richard Hague, Director of the Centre and Professor of Innovative Manufacturing; Chris Tuck, Deputy Director; Prof. Phill Dickens, Executive Board Member and Professor of Manufacturing Technology, and Phil Reeves, National Outreach Coordinator for the Centre and Managing Director of Econolyst.

During our visit we were treated to a tour of the facilities and heard about the evolution of the group’s research activities. The group has historically worked very closely with industry at higher technology readiness levels; in recent years it has expanded its range of activities to conduct more basic science and experimental work. The group is rapidly expanding, with it this year also becoming the EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Additive Manufacturing.

As well as hearing about their activities, we also shared some of our current work on mapping the emergence of 3D printing. As our hosts have significantly more knowledge about the industry we received some excellent feedback on the content within the maps, had some outstanding questions resolved and some pointers on issues that we could investigate. We look forward to further discussions with the centre and participating at the Additive Manufacturing and 3D Printing International Conference at Nottingham in July.

Image source: http://www.3dp-research.com/About-EPSRC-additive-manufacturing

Mapping_emergence

Mapping the emergence of 3D printing

In previous research at the Institute for Manufacturing we explored the phases and transitions of industrial emergence and developed a framework for mapping industrial emergence. On the basis of that framework, a suite of tools was created. Each of these tools were based on the technology roadmapping principles in which one axis is time-based and the other comprises a number of thematic categories.

We want to use some of these tools in the Bit by Bit project in order to map and understand the emergence of the 3D printing industry. The challenge is that the industry is very complicated, with this complicatedness stemming primarily from the huge variety of 3D printing technologies. The main technologies currently being used by leading companies are fused deposition modeling, stereolithography and selective laser sintering but there are also many more.

One of the approaches that we’ve used in the past is to create ‘quick scans’ of industries (e.g. synthetic diamond, silicon gyro, digital camera). These have been historical maps that have been generated decades after industrial emergence occurred. Drawing on existing historical accounts allowed such maps to be created relatively easily and allowed the identification of the key phases and transitions, and barriers and enablers to emergence.

For a live industry encompassing so many different technologies it is far more challenging. It has been necessary for us to try to simplify what is a rich and evolving industrial landscape. The mapping approach we’ve elected to take involves looking at individual companies to see what technologies they have been developing, the products they have released, and the markets into which they’re being sold.

Rather than consider the full range of thematic categories contained within the framework for mapping industrial emergence (value creation, value capture and value capture), we elected to just focus on the application element of value capture. Looking back to the origins of 3D printing, three main application areas are evident:

  1. Rapid prototyping
  2. Tooling (including moulds and casts)
  3. Direct manufacturing

These three applications are used as the three layers of our maps.

Before going any further it is important to provide a caveat. We have so far only used publicly available data (e.g. annual reports, company websites, newswire, industry blogs) when creating the maps. This means that the picture is often far from complete and we recognise the need to collect data from the companies themselves so that our maps are more comprehensive.

The benefit of the mapping approach is that it allows the effective visualisation of the history of a company’s products, the technologies these are based upon, and the different markets that are the customers of these products. In the EOS example below it is readily apparent that automotive was a lead user for EOS’s stereolithographic product line and again when EOS developed its EOSINT S line.

EOS

A visual limitation of this approach is the discrete categorisation of a 3D printer into a particular application. Depending on the requirements of the customer, these machines are often used for a variety of purposes. For example, EOS promotes its EOSINT P396 as allowing “the tool-free manufacture of serial components, spare parts, functional prototypes and models directly from CAD data”. Despite the multi-purposeness of the product, our mapping technique only allows it to be assigned to a single application and it has therefore been put in what we understand to be its primary application (rapid prototyping).

The EOS map is just one of several maps that we have produced of leading 3D printing companies. Some interesting questions arise from these maps that we are considering exploring:

  • How did 3D printing technologies move from one application domain to another?
  • What was the process through which this occurred?
  • What types of demonstration enabled these transitions?
  • What did the process of demonstration involve?

We are also working on a separate visualisation that shows how different companies in the 3D printing industry have acquired (internally and externally) the capabilities of different 3D printing technologies. We’ll share more on that in a future post.

Image source: Simon Ford, with thanks to the subject, Alex Driver

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The Complete 3D Printing Conference

The Complete 3D Printing Conference was held on 25 March in London. Bit by Bit researcher Dominik Deradjat gives his summary of the event, which included presentations from a diverse range of perspectives.

Phil Reeves, MD and Principle Consultant at Econolyst, opened the conference with two presentations on the landscape of additive manufacturing. In his first session, he focused on the industrial manufacturing sector, providing an overview of additive manufacturing and elaborating on business drivers and technology adoption. In particular, cases and application in the medical, automotive and aeronautics sector were presented.

Then in his second session, Phil discussed the consumer 3D printing landscape, its commercial ecosystem and the dominant companies in the sector. He identified growth opportunities and limitations, offering a realistic and fact-driven evaluation of the current and future achievements in areas affected by additive manufacturing. In contrast to overenthusiastic expectations that can be encountered with the topic of 3D-printing, this presentation was refreshingly objective and grounded in reality.

Scott Dunham of Photizo Group provided a detailed overview of 3D printing vendors including financial results and a market assessment. Leading companies such as 3D Systems, Stratasys, ExOne and Voxeljet were evaluated and compared.

Cydni Tetro of 3DPLUS.Me described 3D printing strategies for merchandise and retail, elaborating on the importance and role of customisation and technical opportunities additive manufacturing offers. She stressed that the adaptation of additive manufacturing is still in an early stage and that technical issues such as colour and finishing still have to be addressed when considering implementation for merchandise.

Other presentations included Will Harvey’s case study of how IBM and Ogilvy implemented 3D printing for the real-time production of souvenir trophies at Wimbledon 2013, and product designer Assa Ashuach’s ideas for creating businesses in additive manufacturing.

Towards the end of the conference, Chris Higgins and Vann Pearce of Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe gave an introduction and overview of patent issues in 3D printing. Additive manufacturing has created grey areas in IP as existing laws do not capture the novel mechanics of how objects created from data files function. Future legal disputes and regulatory changes will have to be observed to provide clarity in some legal areas.

The closing speaker Andrew Dawood, a specialist in periodontics and prosthodontics, talked about how additive manufacturing contributes to his medical practice. Specific cases in which the technology realised customised implants or allowed the physical creation of models for visualisation and preparation for surgeries underlines the importance of 3D printing and the impact that it’s having in the medical sector.

The next 3D Printshow in London will take place in September 2014, exact dates to be determined.

Image source: http://blog.sculpteo.com/2012/05/24/inspiring-3d-printed-industrial-landscapes/

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