Missing a spare part? Want to build a house in a fraction of the time it normally takes? Developments in 3D printing technology mean we can do all these and more, reproducing highly complex structures in materials as diverse as chocolate and ceramic within a matter of minutes.
Today, the industry is worth 2.5 billion USD and by 2025 this figure is expected to rise to 500 billion USD. It's a sizeable figure and one which Luxembourg wants a piece of judging by a 3D printing conference organised by the Indian Business Chamber Luxembourg (IBCL) on Wednesday.
The event, hosted at PwC in Cloche d'Or, welcomed a panel of 3D printing specialists including PwC manager Laurent Frideres, PwC partner and director of PwC's Accelerator Laurent Probst, Maxim Strauss of Cargolux and Henri Colbach, founder of 3Dprint.lu.
No to cluster
They all agreed that Luxembourg should not miss the boat on 3D printing, not least because, whether they are involved or not, it will impact on industry. However, they also agreed that a cluster was not the way to go about it.
Leading the charge, Laurent Probst said: “No, we don't need an additional cluster. We need a value chain approach with technology, materials, engineering, ICT, logistics, maintenance in a full chain where we have to have a comprehensive approach, supporting finance.” He called on the government and other bodies for a “clear map” on what the country's approach should be.
Laurent Frideres joined this call saying that more awareness-raising needed to be done, “not just among policy makers but different actors in industry, academia, research and education.” He also wanted 3D printing technology to be “on the political radar because of the regulatory issues” associated.
Presentations revealed that currently, 3D printing is being mainly used to make prototypes (48 percent of revenues), following by tooling (24 percent), direct production (19 percent) and research and other (9 percent).
But, even businesses that do not wish to use 3D printer technology in these or others ways should be wary of the impact the industry will have on their operations. Maxim Strauss illustrated this perfectly in his presentation.
He described the “reverse globalisation” effect of 3D printing, in that no longer are companies forced to outsource certain operations such as manufacture or the creation of a prototype. With the help of 3D printing they can “in-source.”
Naturally, this will potentially have an impact on logistics firms like Cargolux. “To mitigate the impact that 3D printing brings to the supply chain, Cargolux will continue to develop its niche position and build on its strengths,” he said.
One thing was clear from the talk: 3D printing is here to stay and, with printers soon to be launched which can reproduce complex mixed-material models like iPhones, it is about to get very exciting. Henri Colbach said: “3D printing isn't a trend that's going to go away. It will grow and it will stay.”
The conference concluded with IBCL announcing it will write to Luxembourg's Economy Ministry urging it to look into 3D printing in order to further diversify the country's economy.
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