3-D Printing: The Next Industrial Revolution
We are about to witness a second industrial revolution. And riding the crest of this wave of change is 3-D printing, a digital phenomenon that is transitioning from the realms of the avant garde to the mainstream. Modern manufacturing is about to be transformed beyond recognition.
These were the ideas up for discussion at the recent IESE alumni event hosted by Munich-based EOS, a "hidden champion" in the world of 3-D printing, that has become a market-leader in this disruptive space.
EOS CEO, Dr. Hans Langer, shared a vision of the future with IESE Prof. Marc Sachon and delegates in which the new technology is not only set to change the way in which products and designed and produced, but will "revolutionize manufacturing altogether and bring about business ideas we cannot even envision today."
Europe in pole position
Policy makers in the US and in China are aware that 3-D printing will push back the frontiers in manufacturing, and are prioritizing this industry innovation within their own economies.
Europe, however, is leading the field in R&D, says Langer. "There is a lot more we have to do and others are trying to catch up, but Europe is in the pole position."
Opportunities for entrepreneurs
Most importantly, says Langer, the technology opens up opportunities for start-ups to use 3-D printing to design new products from the outset. "This technology has the potential to modify the structure and properties – of metal, for instance - within the very same part."
3-D printing, or "additive manufacturing" as it is also known, will also revolutionize the spare parts business, claims Langer. While customers have historically received physical shipments, future customers will simply receive digital files. Spare parts can then be printed out on-site: from the factory floor, to the pit stop at Formula 1 or the operating room of a remote hospital. Cost restrictions due to geographical distance will become a thing of the past, he says, as client bases become more global.
The sky is the limit
Many high-end automobiles are already equipped with parts that have been manufactured on EOS machines, Langer told delegates. In Formula 1 racing cars they make up about 50% of the vehicles components. Due to cost implications it will, however, take years before 3-D printing can be applied to mass automobile production.
3-D technology can also generate all kinds of spare parts for the human body, such as dental crowns and bridges or hip replacements. Not only does this speed up production it also provides those parts with new characteristics: hip replacements that used to weigh up to 2,5 kilos can now be offered at 200 grams. They can also be customized to map to each patient’s bone structure.
There is virtually no limit to how the technology can be applied, says Langer. The main challenge, in fact, is to fully envision its possibilities. And that means finding and educating customer-facing engineers who can tap its full potential.
Make time to step back and think
Asked if he had any advice he would share with futures executives, entrepreneurs or others looking to take a definitive step forward in their careers or business, Dr. Langer stressed the importance of finding perspective and making time for reflection. "It is crucial to just sit down and think. This is so much more important than working. Only then can you detect the true potential of ideas."