With the latest version of its Magics software and its new CO-AM platform, Materialize (Nasdaq: MTLS) demonstrates how it continues to mature with the additive manufacturing (AM) industry. On the ground at RAPID+TCT, 3DPrint.com spoke with Materialize CEO, Wilfried Vancraen, as well as Software’s Senior Marketing Director, Hans Van Glabeke, about the company’s role in the industrialization of AM.
The CO-AM 3D printing ecosystem
The company was actually planning to announce CO-AM at the upcoming IMTS show in September. However, Materialize was prompted to launch the platform earlier when, at AMUG, Vancraen noted that other companies were claiming to build on what his company had already accomplished with CO-AM. By acquiring Link3D, the manufacturing execution systems (MES) startup, Materialize was able to move upstream to order entry and storefront functionality, as well as monitor finishing equipment and other tools outside real 3D printers.
The connection of all CO-AM modules is a data lake, where the data of a single customer resides. While the information is owned by the client, Materialize helps structure it for a given vertical. It can then rely on machine learning to optimize the flow and structure of this information. For example, in Materialize’s medical division, the layers of a medical device or implant are captured by cameras inside printers. Artificial intelligence is then applied to optimize the design and printing process. This layer analysis is being ported to other applications and is in a pilot phase.
“The idea is that with CO-AM, we’re creating a platform where people can learn for their production lines, how to be competitive,” Vancraen told 3Dprint.com. “Some companies want to standardize AM and give everyone the same opportunities. However, if they were really successful, it would be deadly for the entire outsourcing industry because then you have no way to differentiate yourself. By the way, they won’t be successful because manufacturing is so vast and 3D printing has such vast applications that there is room for multiple players in this industry. However, each of the players faces a challenge to optimize their systems and create the best possible environment around their 3D printers.
3D printing modules
The CO-AM software platform is agnostic as to the exact CAD or build preparation tools one might use. Therefore, they can rely on build preparation from Materialize in the form of Magics or even GrabCAD from Stratasys. There are already third-party apps that are available for CO-AM and will continue to be more in the future. For now, they include tools from Castor, which analyzes a manufacturer’s parts to determine which ones are best suited for AM, as well as AM-Flow, which offers tracking, grouping and packaging solutions. automatic parts.
Among the modules connected to CO-AM is Magics. Magics is the de facto industry standard for build preparation software, allowing users to perform functions such as changing wall thickness to add support structures to a 3D model before printing . With the latest edition, Magics 26, users can work with CAD and mesh tools based on the Parasolid core. This means they don’t have to go back and forth between a CAD program and Magics to cut a model into parts or add fillets and holes.
While it is possible to purchase individual solutions, like Magics, enterprises can also subscribe to CO-AM as a larger package configured for a specific vertical. Companies that use their own automated workflow to standardize the production of a specific 3D printed product, for example patient-specific hearing aids, will not need as many additional CO-AM modules. Meanwhile, medical device and aviation manufacturers may need to rely on a broader set of different tools and workflows, as they will have a greater variety of different components to manufacture. They will also have to do more planning, scheduling and inspection.
Van Glabeke compared the model to Microsoft Office 365 versus Word. You can have access to the entire Office 365 cloud suite or simply download Word for your desktop. The company is still working on a comprehensive customer portal interface where customers can subscribe themselves and add additional modules. For now, Materialize is working on rolling out CO-AM to high-end customers, otherwise the deployment costs would be too high. This will lower the threshold for traditional Magics customers.
A 3D printing service to inform 3D printing software
Although Materialize has one of the largest 3D printing production footprints in the industry, its footprint as a software company is larger. Why doesn’t it just focus on the software business, instead of 3D printing around 300,000 eyeglass frames a year? For the experience. The company’s service desk business has always been a big part of understanding what software it takes to 3D print good parts on a variety of systems.
“Well, we have a foundation in software because we believe that software is what makes 3D printers work. In order to develop the best possible software, you need to have experience with customer needs,” Vancraen said. “At first we started using 3D printers and found that we couldn’t find the software that would allow us to be profitable. So we created our own software and then decided that we weren’t going to try to become the most largest service desk in the world, but we will try to provide the best software in the world.
Now that the industry is adjusting to mass production, so is Materialize. The company aims to 3D print one million eyeglass frames per year in its Polish factory so that it can solve all the problems necessary for the mass production of a product.
“Today, our various manufacturing activities are intended to be profitable because otherwise we would have bad software, but, at the same time, they are the test bed for many modules of our software. So with glasses, for example, we ran into the issues of people having to do very high volumes,” Vancraen explained. “On the other hand, we have other medical lines that do mass customization, where each product is unique for each patient. Over there, we make volumes by the tens of thousands, but not by the hundreds of thousands, but with much more individualization. At some point we expanded into software and saw more and more demand for our metal products. So we opened our metal factory in Bremen in order to eat our own dog food, as we say in the USA, and to be able to experience firsthand what it’s like to be one of our clients.
Despite the increased automation, Materialize maintains a human-centric ethos. “We believe in the human brain to look at data, make interpretations, etc.,” Van Glabeke said.
Vancraen added: “Since the beginning of Materialise, we have said that we have a mission: we want to contribute to a better and healthier world. It has several dimensions. One of them is the planet and the other dimension is people. We like to make people happy. It’s happy customers, but also happy employees. We try to design our software tools with people in mind. We want software that people really enjoy using. And this is one of the great challenges of MES software today. So we want automation and artificial intelligence to make things easier for human beings. »
Ethics in the 3D printing sector
As an industry writer, I’ve always marveled at how Vancraen’s philosophy balances with the business world, which is often morally questionable, to say the least. Materialize is known for striving for ecological sustainability and avoids working in the manufacture of weapons as much as possible. I asked Vancraen how he navigated this complicated territory.
“[Achieving this balance means] try to be fair in the balance between the different stakeholders. We need to value our people [i.e., Materialise employees]. We have to give them credit for this value. And that’s something you do by paying them. But, at the same time, we will never be the richest people on earth because we cannot afford it. If we have to give so much to one employee, we have to take too much from our customers,” Vancraen said.
“We must try to create added value in everything we do. Fortunately, you can create added value by also doing good for people and the planet. But we have to take some of this added value for ourselves. Otherwise, we cannot be sustainable. We cannot be fair to our suppliers, to our employees. So there is this constant need for a fair balance where everyone is treated fairly.
The CEO went on to describe how this extends to his operation in the stock market:
“We also do our best to be transparent and fair to our shareholders. When we went public in 2014, many players in the AM industry were promising huge growth of up to 100% per year. We have indicated that our growth forecast is expected to be more modest up to 20% through 2020, and we have achieved 19% growth on average from 2013 to the end of 2019.”
As the 3D printing industry becomes more integrated into the larger world of consumer production, it will be interesting to see how the company continues to navigate this space. Mass manufacturing is an area marked by ecological and social destruction, usually brought about by arms producers. Questionable supply chains rely on slave labor and the erosion of habitats, which support the biodiversity necessary for existence on earth. These supply chains, in turn, sustain the global military-industrial complex, powered by and fueling fossil fuels. In the meantime, the company will certainly enable the industrialization of AM, but, in the long term, will Materialize lead the change that replaces this system or be co-opted by it?
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