Phil Reeves & Andy Langfeld on application-specific 3D printers, sustainability & low-volume production

Earlier this year, for the recently published second episode of TCT’s Additive Insight Innovators on Innovators podcast series, industry consultant and Reeves Insight founder Dr Phil Reeves caught up with Stratasys EMEA President Andreas Langfeld. 

The pair go back seven years and in that time have witnessed the gradual development of additive manufacturing machinery and materials to the point where the likes of Stratasys are targeting series production applications. As they joined the Additive Insight podcast, Reeves and Langfeld reflected on the seven years since their first communication, pondered where the additive manufacturing industry might be in another seven years, and in between tackled application-specific 3D printers, whether the markets for personalisation and low-volume production are as prevalent as made out, and how legislation around spare parts and sustainability might affect 3D printing. 

Below, we have the full transcript of the pair’s exchange. 

Andy: So Phil, happy to be here with you. In preparation for this podcast, I was digging into emails that we have exchanged in 2014. And now we’re here seven years later…

Phil: You have a better email server than I do, because I don’t think I can get anything back more than three years. So what did you find? What were we exchanging emails on?

Andy: It was very interesting, because sometimes, once in a while, I go back into older emails just to remind myself how the market has changed, how the network has changed and the interaction between people. So actually, we were about to have a user conference in the UK, but you also had a TCT conference. And it was quite interesting to see the agenda points, do you remember the agenda points?

Phil: I’m a bit of a dinosaur with things, but I can’t remember that far back. So tell me what they were and refresh my memory.

Andy: The topic was basically really the economic viability of 3D printing, and more the forward looking so what would be the desired end state? Or where does it go? Because we’ve always been accompanied by a lot of hype in this industry. And I think you did a presentation about the current status of 3D printing back then in 2014. And what you would perceive to be the future. So do you think some of the things that you forecasted back then have turned into reality?

Phil: Yeah, we started forecasting things a long way before 2014. So maybe going back even further, some some things have definitely come to fruition on economics, part economics. And I think the one thing that we always used to say was, we never anticipated the cost of printers would come down, what we anticipated was the productivity would go up. And I always say, it’s a bit like computers, if you think back 10, 15, 20 years ago, when you bought a PC, they were always £1,000, the price never came down, what happened was the process of speed went up, the hard drive increased in volume, the GPU increased and you accepted that because you got more for your money. And actually, I think, to some degree, that’s what’s happened with additive. And that’s kind of what we projected, we said, ‘we don’t anticipate the machines are going to crash through the floor in terms of cost, what’s going to happen is they’ll increase in productivity, there’ll be more economically viable to use for product manufacture.’ And I think the other thing we said was a barrier at the time was materials, for sure. If you went back six or seven years, there were so few materials on the market. And it’s really materials that engineers look for when they start the journey for using additive manufacturing.

So yeah, I think materials have increased, certainly productivity of machines has increased. I think the one thing maybe that I got wrong, was – and I still believe it today – I honestly think that we’re going to get to a point where machines become specific for tasks, I still think we live in a world of rapid prototyping where you guys make very generic machines, because you don’t know what people are going to use them for. And actually, if you look at the shop floor, a lot of production engineering equipment does repetitive tasks, day in, day out, it makes turbine blades, it makes parts of cars. And I predicted I think, seven or eight years ago, that we’d have more additive manufacturing systems dedicated to single tasks. And I still don’t think that’s happened.

Andy: No, it’s so true. Because also when I when I think back, I mean, first of all, let me go back into 2009, when I started at Stratasys. And I was presented the first 3D printed part that I saw in my life, and I was just thinking who would be using that, and for what?

Phil: So what was it?

Andy: So it was prototyping, do the first design iterations, maybe a bit of the look and feel and get as close as possible to the end product that you want to produce. And it’s still very valid and valuable application in the market. Prototyping hasn’t gone away. It’s still so much adopted, and it really brings economical value, and freedom of design capabilities to companies. That’s still very valid. But when we then met in 2014, we actually started the journey to go into market segmentation, kind of like what you said, there needs to be a machine for a specific purpose and we have been very good since the late 1980s to bring cool products to market, and customers would figure out how to use it. So you had a doctor using it, you had the automotive segment using it, you had a consumer electronics companies using it. And they have all become smarter than us and said, ‘This is a perfect application for additive manufacturing.’ Now, luckily, we are closely connected to our customers, so we could learn from them.

And we understood exactly what you described, we must go into an era of segmentation. And we do see across the product lifecycle, there was a design phase, there’s a functional testing phase, then there is the phase of producing on the manufacturing floor. Within the field of producing, that’s the big hope now for the future, to be really specific in what can we offer here and not only manufacturing aids that are making the manufacturing process more efficient, but also using additive manufacturing in order to produce the parts that are needed. And that’s where, as you said, it needs to be more specific for a very specific use case. Although, I would also claim that it still needs to be offering this flexibility that additive manufacturing can offer. In COVID, in during the pandemic, you saw that the large OEMs switch from producing parts for cars to PPE. And that’s something that you don’t want to give up because that’s also one of the benefits of additive manufacturing, is to produce what you need when you need where you need it, which entails a certain level of flexibility. But in terms of certification standards, what is required in terms of certification to put a part into a car, that needs to be met, for sure.

Phil: I heard a wonderful phrase a couple of years ago, or a wonderful word, which is ‘leagile’ to describe 3D printing. And it’s this combination of Lean and Agile. Because one of the problems with lean manufacturing is you can lean yourself to death, you have no agility. And that’s what you said with COVID. If all of your processes are so focused on one thing, you find it very hard to change and, I think with additive manufacturing, maybe you’re right, the technology doesn’t want to be too focused. But for some things, I think that… a good example is the Z height of a machine, yeah? If you’re only making hearing aids, or you’re only making dental implants, you only need 20 millimetres of Z height. But if you have to have 200 millimetres of Z height, and you have to fill all that void up with raw material, it becomes a very expensive process. I think there’s a balance.

I mean, I’d be keen to understand, if you look at a company like Stratasys, how do you listen to such a huge breadth of customers, and use that knowledge to influence the technology roadmap, because you’ve got some smart techie guys who kind of know what they’re doing for the next four years. I’d be keen to know from a sort of a marketing/ sales business perspective, how you influence them, because they must have quite a focused mindset on what they want to do and it might not always be what industry necessarily needs. So how do you influence them?

Andy: Sure, on the one hand, the question is, do we influence them? Or do they influence us? And I think it needs to be a good synergy. So, on the one hand, we influence the market by marketing, by making sure that there is a good understanding of what’s really possible today. And it’s much more than there is common understanding in the industry or in several industries, because it’s still very much hype driven. So when we bring a cool or very valuable application for the healthcare market for the patient care, the next question would be, ‘When can we print the human heart?’ It’s still this hype element. So, on the marketing side, we need to set the right expectations without downgrading the capabilities of additive manufacturing today, because it’s huge, it’s immense. And at the same time, we need to educate the customers in terms of how they can apply it. It’s all about additive manufacturing being applied. And that’s the main barrier for many companies, they have a budget for industry 4.0, for sustainability, for all of the buzzwords, but many CEOs are struggling to understand how do I turn this budget into action to fulfil some of my industry 4.0, digitalisation or sustainability goals? And we need to basically go from BOM to printability to economical sense.

I also remember you have done a study – and it was in 2014 as well – what would it cost to print a washing machine or other goods? And you also start with what can be printed, which components can be printed, and then you go to the economical sense. And that’s the whole story.

Phil: Yeah, that was a fascinating project we did in 2013-14, and it was with a really interesting crew of people called the IBM IBV – The Institute for Business Value. Those guys commission quite deep insightful studies and we were part of a team looking at what would happen – And if you think back to 2013-14, robotics was also a really big thing, cobots had just started to become a thing, open source was the thing, Android was kind of growing, you had Arduinos, you had Raspberry Pis, and all of a sudden there was this idea that maybe the consumer electronics industry would go through a seismic shift if accessible robotics, accessible electronics and 3D printing were to converge. So we looked at this future world state of what would happen in supply chains if a small startup in Germany could get hold of 3D printers, robots and open source electronics? What would happen to things like LCD screens, iPhones or cell phones and washing machines was one example. But the reality was, when we looked at it, yes, you could print, I think it was 15 or 25% of the parts, but then it would cost you $17,000 to do it.

Andy: That’s an expensive washing machine.

Phil: Exactly, there’s no economic benefit. And there’s no real, at the time, we couldn’t really see any way of using the technology to improve the performance either. Maybe that’s changed now. Because a lot of the work that people are doing certainly on metal additive is around, can you improve the efficiency of products? Can we design efficiency? So yeah, it would be fun to do that study again today, because I think we’d find a lot of things have changed, technologically.

Andy: What what I would claim is that, first of all, the capability to print more than 25% of the parts or the components would be a given because the industry has come a long way when it comes to diversity of technology. There are some additional technologies, not a lot, but some additional technologies in the market and much more materials. And also the capability to certify for real industrial grade solutions, the capability to certify printed parts for industrial use. And it could be the flame retardant – the EN455/2 certification that is required to put parts on a train, for example. But I think this was not possible back then. So in terms of capability, or the feasibility, is it printable? And could it be used based on the industry standards? This is probably – based on studies that we have done, depending on the BOM, obviously – but it can easily go up to 50/ 60/ 70%, where we would claim yes, you can print that component, or you can print this amount of components. Economical sense, still a different question. And that’s related to throughput, the speed of the technology, and ultimately the cost per part.

Phil: Yeah, I think you have to look at what is the driver to wanting to do it? And I think when we looked at things like the washing machine, we got into a really interesting position where you looked at supply chains by part count, and you said, ‘Well, let’s reduce the part count.’ Or you look at it by value of tied up inventory and then you say, ‘Oh, no, I don’t look at part count, I want to look at mitigating the most expensive components,’ or then you look at the supply chain, and you look at vulnerability, and you say, ‘Oh, actually, I want to use additive manufacturing locally to offset the potential vulnerability,’ whether that’s through shipping, whether it’s through the Suez Canal getting blocked, all these different things. So it’s very difficult, I think, to look at replacing existing systems with additive manufacturing, and trying to decide why you would do it. And I think that’s where companies really struggle. They think they want to, whether it’s for environmental sustainability, reduction of inventory, reduction of waste, acceleration of time to market, there are so many potential benefits, I think companies find it quite hard to say, ‘well, how do I analyse them? How do I add KPIs to some of these claims?’

Andy: That’s why it’s still important that some of the solutions in the market are still not too much specified. Because as a company, you may want to jump into 3D printing and have a range of applications that you can serve, because a single one will not justify the business case. But we see that changing a lot. So the maturity of the knowledge and also the awareness around additive manufacturing has grown a lot. COVID has accelerated this a bit because it was prominent and shining in the news again as the alternative to disrupt supply chains to create this independency from from the ships and the trucks that are driving across the globe, and I think this has been helping to really take another look at the BOM, at the production process today. And to really look into AM as an adopted alternative, because also the hype would claim that additive manufacturing can replace some of the conventional production or manufacturing methods, which I don’t believe is the case. But it is a very good alternative, very much linked to the volume of parts that are required today. The higher the volume, the more you would go back to injection moulding or traditional manufacturing methods. But the lower the volume, the more valuable it is and the more adopted it is. And that’s a trend that we’re seeing.

Then I would also say that you see, additive manufacturing technologies and materials are going into a direction where they’re offering more and more capabilities, higher throughput, more possibilities to certify the outcome versus industry standards. And on the other side, you see the world of production going into the opposite direction towards additive manufacturing, where there is a requirement for higher customisation for lower volumes, for maybe replacing inventories and producing on demand, which also translates into lower volumes. And you have more and more touch points between the manufacturing industry or manufacturing of certain components and parts, and the touch points with additive manufacturing capabilities. And all of these touch points are new use cases and applications that are making additive manufacturing adoption grow in the market.

Phil: I’ve recently done some work with with the British Standards Institute on writing a standard for business leaders to understand the difference between making money with 3D printing and saving money with 3D printing, because a lot of the use cases that you’ve described, whether it’s shop floor tooling, jigs and fixtures, prototyping, the reason that we’re adopting additive is actually for productivity gains, we’re saving money on the shop floor. But then the flip side of that is, you’ve also got companies who are designing highly complex geometries to get more optimised products that they’re selling for a premium. And therefore they’re making money with 3D printing. And I just worry or I wonder what your view is, whether we try and oversell all those benefits together, because the benefits to one company are very different to the benefits to another. And I’m not sure how well, as an industry, we articulate the difference in the benefits of using 3D printing to make money?

Andy: First of all, let me ask you, are we an industry?

Phil: [Laughs] That’s a great question. That’s a great question. I mean, we all go to the same trade shows, we all talk at the same conferences, and we all try and sell our wares to the same vertical markets. I guess there is an industry there. I’d like to think it’s a value chain. Some companies possibly try and steal too much of it. But, no I do think there is an industry in additive manufacturing.

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Andy: In principle, I’m with you on that. But I think we are not yet considering this industry as an industry with all of its diversity, with all of the potential customer values as you described, making money versus saving money. And back to what I said at the beginning, we did start now, in the example of Stratasys, we did start to segment the market and understand that the designer has different needs, and also a different goal that he wants to accomplish by additive manufacturing as compared to someone who is manufacturing or someone who is working on the shop floor responsible for the jigs and fixtures and the efficiency of the production process. And this means that we need to much more diversify in terms of the expertise and the knowledge that we are offering to different markets. Because bottom line, we are an alternative solution to produce things. It could be a prototype, a prototype is also being produced and it’s an industry, it could be the production of low volumes, large volumes, it could be the production of customised parts. But all of these users are having different needs and that’s why we segmented the market.

And, by the way, we also recognise that with our core technologies, PolyJet and FDM, which are still the most proliferated in the market, but limited in what they can offer to certain stages of the product lifecycle, we acknowledge that we need to diversify and also expand in terms of our technology offering. And now you’re going exactly into this direction where I would claim PolyJet is the solution for designers because you have the full colour, Pantone validated, you have the transparency, you have the different shore values for the haptic elements of a prototype, you have FDM technology for jigs and fixtures, large tools, but also for certified parts, low volume into specific industries. And then you have SAF and P3, our powder and DLP technologies in general, that are capable of producing higher volumes in materials that have not been available so far in the industry. And that’s a specification that we need to do. And it’s all use case driven. So how do we give someone a tool that they can use to increase revenue or to decrease costs? It requires us to offer the right solution and not say that FDM can do everything. Because that’s not the case.

Phil: It’s an interesting topic about technologies and markets, and certainly on end use part manufacture, because over the years, lots and lots of vendors have come to me and said, ‘I have this technology, it can do this, what is the market for it?’ And the assumption is always that there is a market with no technology to fill the market void. So, we have injection moulding that can make millions of parts cost effectively. And we have rapid prototyping that makes very small numbers of parts cost effectively. And as the productivity of the technology increases, there’s an assumption that there’s a market out there for 10,000 parts a year, or 20,000 parts a year. And I’m not sure there is because those markets need to be made. They don’t exist. I don’t know what your view is. It’s just people seem to think that there is a market out there that needs 3D printing for production, but when you look around, you say, ‘Well, no, you have to make the market for 3D printing.’

Andy: You have to, on the one hand, make it. On the other hand, you have to just rethink. The topic of rethink is rethink inventory, as an example. If you have thousands of parts on the shelf, get rid of them and produce them when you need them. So that’s basically a shift of the after sales or the maintenance of products that we bring to market. And the market doesn’t exist today, because the solution awareness may not be there. And we’ve always had our inventory and our shelves and our parts on the shelf, and the trucks shipping here and there. So that’s a rethinking where the task that we have is to convince that it makes economical sense. And it’s clear that it’s more sustainable, that we are saving CO2 emission when we have less ships and less trucks on the road. That’s a storyline that many people can follow and there is also a high level of interest in order to change that current status quo, you have Siemens mobility and they, as an example, took inroads and said, ‘Okay, we’re not going to do the inventory anymore, we’re going to produce on demand.’ And on the other hand, there may not be a market because there has not been, again, the awareness that we have a valuable production method to serve that 10,000 volume. But with a higher degree of customisation, higher competitiveness in the market, so you need to do something that is unique. And you want to do it for a certain market segment. And the further we segment the market, or all of the companies out there are doing it, the smaller the lot size, so you’re not talking to consumers, you’re talking to consumers with a specific buying persona. So who is the buying persona that we are addressing with our product, and that scales down the volume, and that’s where additive manufacturing is taking inroads to do really the customised products for people. I had another podcast and a person was asking me, ‘What have I to do with 3D printing? I will never have a desktop printer at home because I don’t know what to do with it.’ And the thing is really, that we as consumers, we are benefiting from additive manufacturing without even knowing it because the products we consume, in many cases, are better because of the use of additive manufacturing in the early stages.

Phil: It’s a good it’s a good point. A journalist once asked me, when do you think 3D printing will have arrived? And my response was when people stop talking about it. And I think that’s the issue. I remember standing up at a conference and saying, ‘Who in the audience has something 3D printed with them?’ It was a 3D printing conference and remarkably no one put their hand up. And then we said, ‘Well, okay, who do you know who’s had an orthopaedic implant? Who do you know who has an in the ear hearing aid? Who do you know who’s got invisible dental aligners?’ All these people have actually been touched by 3D printing, but you don’t see it. It’s around you. And that’s kind of how I want this industry to progress, I suppose.

Coming back to your point about the vertical markets, are we are we too insular as a as an industry – If I use my term that we’re an industry – do we look in on ourselves too much? You know, we’re doing a podcast at the moment for TCT. Should we not be doing podcasts for Supply Chain Weekly or Lean Manufacturing Monthly? Is that actually the customer for the future of additive manufacturing? Because, as you said, prototyping still a big thing. But the prototyping market knows about the technology. And I just wonder, are we are we educating the right people or the wrong people about what the technology can do for their companies?

Andy: It’s a very good question. I mean, we are definitely taking the approach that we want to educate specific industries. Because exactly as you said, we have spent a lot of time educating us internally within our additive manufacturing industry. So it’s kind of like a family, you know, each trade show is a bit of a family reunion, you exchange, you learn from one another. So it’s all benefiting, all contributing to the fact that this industry, or additive manufacturing, is taking some evolutionary steps, whether it’s the advancement of technologies, materials, but also use cases. What we really need to do is educate inside out. And this education is entailing marketing, so how do we address different verticals, and convince them about the potential of additive manufacturing? And this needs to be very specific. And that needs to be driven by what is the customer pain point and what is the customer need? And then you have certain clusters, because you may have common needs in the automotive industry. Now automotive industry is going through a big change with e-mobility, so you see tectonic shifts in this industry, which means that they are currently in a phase of redesigning products.

So prototyping will, again, become a bit more prominent in the automotive in terms of the usage, but people will not talk about it that much, because it may not be so sexy. ‘We spoke about it five years ago, so why again?’ But, now it’s a current demand and need of the automotive industry, so we need to reiterate that message that when you now switch from your diesel car to an E-mobility or to an electronic car, where can you leverage 3D printing for the prototyping stages, because that’s where you are right now, but we also need to then address how can you save weight, which is linked to e-mobility down the manufacturing process. And that’s so specific that we could talk for hours about different industries, different needs, but the inside out, what is possible with additive manufacturing for specific buying persona, and specific use case needs, that’s the secret for the expansion of additive manufacturing.

Phil: Yeah, I think you can postulate the what ifs as technologies change. I was speaking somebody recently about the electric vehicle market, and also autonomous vehicles, and there’s a long term sort of train of thought that says, if we get to a point where we truly have autonomous self driving aware vehicles, then actually all the crash protection systems that add weight to vehicles are not necessarily worthwhile. And therefore if you start to take these things out, you can start to reduce the amount of metal used in vehicle manufacture, and then it starts to raise the question about more sustainable polymers, the reuse of components. So, at the moment electrification is heavy because of batteries, but battery technology is moving incredibly quickly. So you think in the future, 10/ 20 years down the line, are vehicles going to be more like carbon fibre go karts that have very small battery systems, very powerful, high torque motors that are 3d printed, very efficient. Maybe the electrification of cars is probably the best thing that’s ever going to happen to 3D printing?

Andy: It could be. And you also see in this example, it’s a top down initiative, I would call it, because the change from denial to acceptance of many of the automotive OEMs has been happening in record time. And that’s down to public pressure, I would say.

Phil: And government regulation.

Andy: Yeah, exactly. But that’s the top down that I was referring to. And then you go from denial to embracing this in record time. And I’ve been surprised by some of the big names in the automotive industry, that the message changed so quickly, it felt like overnight, but that’s where also I see the potential for 3D printing to have this moment of unleash where there is also some – and you see the trend with governmental fundings related to digitalisation and CO2 emission reduction – so I think it’s happening and there will be a point of acceleration.

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Phil: There could be some other similar initiatives or similar ways of driving 3D printing adoption in other industries. So I saw recently there’s a new European legislation about consumer white goods manufacture. So if you make washing machines, dishwashers, anything, you have to be able to supply spare parts for ten years. Now, the traditional inventory model for spare parts is not going to work for a ten-year life cycle. So either machine manufacturers are going to have to just standardise parts, which they’re not going to want to do because they lose innovation. Or they’re going to have to look to things like 3D printing to make the spares. But I guess if they’re smart, you look at designing them to be 3D printed from the outset, so that you can then use them for spares. So I do wonder, again, whether governments and legislation will be the thing that changes supply chains, and pushes them towards 3D printing.

Andy: It’s a fair assumption, because all of the big trends are influenced by the governments. And it starts with the funding criteria that they put in place. If you take Horizon Europe, or Horizon 2020 before that, it all spoke this very specific language and gave focus to the companies, what is it that we need to embrace? What is it that we should focus on in order to also be able to efficiently apply for funds and prove that we are taking these inroads? So I think it’s always a government giving of directions, where we need to go. And this will unfold a lot of new use cases for additive manufacturing. So we can only be ready and the same as you are doing it with your studies, with your prognosis, also the experience that you have, it’s really opening the eyes of what are the potential mega trends? Because if you really want to be competitive in the future, you need to always look at the mega trends. And it could be small mega trends that consumers are not necessarily aware of. But the companies need to play with that thought and look at all of the tools they could have available. And tools could be digital, it could be 3D printing, it could be something completely else. But is there a mega trend that you see coming up soon?

Phil: I think the mega trend that exists already, it relates to materials and that’s sustainability. But I guess not just the material sustainability, but the whole supply chain sustainability. So you mentioned earlier, yes, there are benefits to reshoring manufacturing, bringing manufacturing closer to the point of consumption, that reduces transportation, that reduces cost. But you have to look at full lifecycle, end to end sustainability. And I think we do have some issues around the green side of our – certainly on the polymer side, our polymer chemistry is maybe not as green as it could be. The actual additive manufacturing processes in themselves are not as energy efficient as they could be. They haven’t been designed around energy efficiency. So if you look at some of them, you preheat a significant amount of material to just below its melting temperature, you hit it with a laser, that’s an incredibly inefficient laser, you lose lots of energy in the room, you end up with a cake of material that you then let cool down for 24 hours. That’s not an efficient manufacturing process. So I think as time goes on, the next big trend in this industry is going to be efficiency. How do we make machines, more efficient supply chains more efficient? How do we make material either greener coming in or more recyclable going out? And my biggest worry is as an industry, we won’t keep pace with legislation.

At the moment, some companies are able to use our technology for prototyping because it’s exempt from the environmental legislation placed on them in the supply chain. But if we want them to start making products with our technology, we need to think differently about sustainability. And the worry is that we won’t. And at some point, somebody will turn around in the corporate social responsibility group of a large car company and say, ‘Well, that material you’re using in prototyping, we can’t use that anymore. We’re gonna be legislated against it.’ So, I do think we really have to think, as an industry, seriously about sustainability.

I think the other thing that really excites me is the idea of making materials that we can’t make by other manufacturing processes. Taking your multi-material approach one step further. So the idea of combining chemistry at the printhead to make new types of polymers or combining different types of powders into different types of alloys, and using additive as a way of getting better material, rather than just saying, ‘Oh, this is as good as ABS or as good as PEEK.’ You know, can we get to a point where we’re better? So those are kind of, I suppose, trends. I would think certainly the environmental mega trend is one. I’m less convinced about customisation. I don’t honestly believe the world cares about customisation. Well, personalisation. I think we have an awful lot of options to personalise things around us, we just don’t. Okay, we personalise our digital experience on our cell phone, but we don’t personalise our clothing, we could go and have different t shirts to each other, we could have different jeans, we could have different footwear, and the likes of Nike have trade personalisation and consumers, I don’t think, are as bothered about personalisation as we as an industry think they are.

Andy: But it doesn’t need to be customisation towards the needs of the consumer, it can also be customisation to the needs of supply chain for specific parts. So I think, I agree with you, it’s not everything needs to be personalised and customised to my needs, my personal Andy Langfeld needs. But use case needs are driving a certain level of customisation, in terms of the processes and everything, so if you can customise supply chain to a certain range of your product, when you when you now face the ten years of spare parts supply. It’s a customisation down to the level of the spare part that you need to be able to supply and the lifetime of that spare part and so forth. So I think that goes into the direction of additive manufacturing. And other other than that, I agree with you that there is mega trends and workflow and automation and the speed of the process or the the way how we make it a hands off experience, additive manufacturing, that’s the focus that we have big time. We need to make sure that it’s a seamless experience and it’s not a segmented workflow from software and CAD design, then to the printer and then you shut down and you take the next step, it needs to be a seamless process. And it’s making big progress if you compare it to a couple of years back. So you now have automated production lines where there is less hands on, even with FDM, where you’re saving a lot of steps that have been required in the past. But the automation, the software experience, the shipping of data, if you want to call it like that, that’s all of the things that need to advance in order to make it even more adopted in the different industries.

Phil: I’m just conscious of time, but I’m really interested to explore… the first email exchange between us was seven years ago. So what’s the email exchange going to look like in seven years’ time? What are we going to be talking about. Because I read an article by Joris Peels this morning and he said nothing’s changed in the last eight to ten years. Technologies are the same, maybe the applications are a bit different, but what are we going to be talking about in seven years’ time? 

Andy: I think we will not be that much needed anymore because we are sort of generalists. So we have seven years’ time now to specialise. So maybe we will meet and we will be additive manufacturing for healthcare, and that’s our topic. But I really believe that it will be more tailored to a certain industry, to a certain use case. Because there’s so much to talk about, we could have spoken five hours about healthcare applications only, about patient care models and planning models for surgeries and so forth. But I think these will be the discussions where we’re talking about the use case. And by the way, additive manufacturing as part of this process and the enabler. But it’s not additive manufacturing, what can it enable? Will it go this direction or that direction? It will be a use case. And we are enjoying the conversation about the use case, and how different it was seven years ago. ‘Can you just imagine how we bring you a medical model seven years ago? Now look at the capabilities we have today? And by the way, additive manufacturing is the enabler.’

Phil: Yeah, it’s an interesting way of viewing it. I have a company I work with at the moment as an advisor who have a bioresorbable polymer for making implants and it took them 12 years to develop it. And it was only halfway through the development journey that somebody realised they could print it. Then they said, ‘Well, why don’t we just make it printable?’ And up until that point, it was going to be a moulding material and then they went, ‘Well, no, it’s photo curable. So we’d have to cast it.’ And then somebody said, ‘That means you have to have optically clear tools.’ And then somebody said, ‘Well, let’s print it.’ So now it’s a material. That’s a printable material, but the printing isn’t really part of it. You just need the printers to make the material to work.

Andy: Exactly.

Phil: Maybe, that’s where we’ll be as an industry. As I say, back to the point, we know we’ve arrived when people stop talking about it.

The conversation between Dr Phil Reeves and Andy Langfeld was the second episode in our Innovators on Innovators series. The first featured EOS founder Hans Langer & Hyperganic CEO Lin Kayser, who discussed their first experiences with 3D printing, what the future of design and manufacturing will look like and how AM technology will play a huge role in it.

You can listen to the episode below and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.

Want to discuss? Join the conversation on the Additive Manufacturing Global Community Discord.  

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