Category Archives: EOS

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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Where’s 3D printing now?

There’s an excellent interview in the November 2013 issue of TCT Magazine with the founder and CEO of EOS, Dr Hans Langer. For us as researchers it’s a great look into the history of one of the pioneering AM equipment manufacturers.

One of the things we hope to do during this project is to gain a realistic perspective on how 3D printing will affect manufacturing. There’s been considerable media hype around consumer-grade 3D printing, something that Dr Langer addressed in the interview.

“Consumer 3D printing is still at the peak of the inflated expectations, whereas industrial 3D printing has already been through this and is now climbing the slope to ‘enlightenment’. Consumer technologies are very interesting because they introduce people early on to the thought processes behind layer manufacturing. In the early days a lot of our work with customers was changing their expectations and teaching them how to design for the layer-by-layer process. Nowadays more engineers are familiar with the benefits and the constraints and in future we hope this won’t be an issue for us!”

As he comments, education is an important element in gaining acceptance for a new technology, both in terms of educating customers as to the potential of the technology, as well as how to use and get the greatest benefits from the technology. The shift from rapid prototyping to direct manufacturing has also meant a need to gain production acceptance . It’s now less about the freedoms that additive manufacturing delivers and more about meeting the benchmarks set by other manufacturing technologies and then doing something extra. As EOS CMO Dr Adrian Keppler comments:

“In the past a user of an additive manufacturing system would look at the parts from their machine and say ‘this part looks nice, I can use it.’ Now they want the right material, mechanical properties and even microstructure that is available from their existing techniques with the freedom of the AM process as well. We now have to combine something known, such [as] casting, forging, milling with the characteristics only available to AM”

What we’re seeing is something that the Kano model helps explain. The design freedom that a 3D printer can provide is a delighter feature – but to be adopted in a production environment then it’s also got to be able to satisfy the basic production requirements and be comparable in terms of performance (ie throughput).

Image source: http://www.eos.info/about_eos/history