3D printing technology coming of age
The 3D printing network, launched in the Hamburg Metropolitan Region in February 2018, has long since morphed into one of Germany’s largest with around 300 members. The kick-off event in the Chamber of Commerce, attended by over 150 experts and stakeholders in commerce, science and the political sphere revealed the keen, unabated interest in suitable materials, printing processes, business models and financing options. Hamburg News spoke to Henning Fehrmann, spokesman for the 3D printing network (3D-Druck Netzwerk).
Raw material input matches consumption
"Technology is coming of age," said Fehrmann, Managing Director of Fehrmann Tech Group. Research into new high-performance metal powders for 3D printing, such as the high-performance aluminum alloy AlMgty is underway at the Fehrmann ALLOYS subsidiary. After the initial hype and exaggerated expectations, 3D printing is now showing what it can do, he remarked. When supply chains collapsed amid the pandemic, 3D printers soon began producing urgently-needed visors, masks and parts for respiratory systems. "This is where the advantages of the technology lie. It enables swift, decentralized and flexible manufacturing based on individual needs. And it is frequently cost-effective," Fehrmann stressed. The raw material input for 3D printing matches the raw material consumption exactly meaning production is both ecological and cheaper.
Economic, ecological forward-looking industry
Long before coronavirus, the Hamburg Metropolitan Region was on course to become one of the leading centres of 3D research and actually applying the new technology. Fehrmann noted: "Hamburg has a historic opportunity here, but it is limited. We must consolidate our global leadership and expertise in research and application to establish an economic, ecological forward-looking industry." Emphasis should be on perceiving 3D technology as a complementary technology rather than as a disruption. "We need to get away from the 'substitute or irrelevant' attitude that has inhibited the development of 3D printing for far too long." And the prospects for growth are good. "In 2019, 12 million metal components were produced worldwide. Experts are now predicting 30 per cent annual growth overall."
Hamburg's lead in metal printing
However, plastics and metal printing differ vastly in terms of technology and application. "Around 2,500 different materials are available for synthetics, but there are just a handful for metal printing. And the investment in the printer jumps a hundredfold for metal printing." This is where the metropolitan region can gain a competitive edge, Fehrmann stressed. "Many companies with experience in research and application and related business models are located here." Several world-famous research institutions such as the Fraunhofer IAPT and the Hamburg University of Applied Science (HAW) or the Technical University Hamburg-Harburg (TUHH) that conduct research into 3D printing also come into the foray. The conditions for attracting innovative and international companies with a view to settling in the region are excellent. "The same applies to expanding the scientific, technological and entrepreneurial lead in terms of plastics, biomaterials in the mechanical and plant engineering sector and the automotive industry," Fehrmann pointed out.
Going digital in pandemic
Making the advantages of 3D printing more visible is another top priority for the network. Members must have an opportunity to exchange ideas and learn from each other. "During our monthly events, we visit companies to see the impact of certain investments i.e., how biomaterials behave in 3D printing, what advantages bionic design i.e., design inspired by nature, has over casting, drilling or milling or how resource-efficient the technology is in reality. We go to universities and pave the way for transferring knowledge from science to industry," Fehrmann explained. However, the pandemic has forced the 3D printing network to host digital-only events for the moment. "Yet our webinars, such as the 3D Printing Tuesday with expert presentations and talks, are meeting with great response." “Doing business is expressly encouraged!" And the free network has already led to many a business relationship.