3D printing alone is no longer enough

by Thomas Masuch

Ampower strategy study addresses newcomers and suppliers

2019/06/23 — The exceptionally successful development of additive manufacturing apparently made the industry the Holy Grail for founders and companies from other industries. However, not only the industry is growing, but also is the pressure of competition. When entering the lucrative AM world, a concrete business plan combined with special know-how becomes more and more indispensable.

The Hamburg-based AM consulting firm Ampower has created the »Additive Manufacturing - Business Strategy« guide to help newcomers to the world of industrial 3D printing. The guidebook is aimed, on the one hand, at service providers, and on the other at suppliers (manufacturers of equipment, powders, etc.). Of course, there is no explicit best practice, but Ampower outlines the framework conditions that beginners should consider when strategically positioning themselves.

The motivation for the guidebook was that the market environment has been changing in recent years, as Matthias Schmidt-Lehr, co-founder and managing director of Ampower, explains. »We talked to many companies which brought additive technologies into the company years ago because they wanted to be among the early adopters.« Often a concrete business strategy was lacking, »and the companies are trying to catch up now.«

Feigned jack-of-all-trades are going to fail

Anyone entering the additive manufacturing market now is certainly not an early adopter and needs a concrete business strategy. Industrial 3D printing alone is no longer sufficient as a formula for success: »We see service providers on the market, some of whom have free capacities,« explains Schmidt-Lehr. »On the other hand, however, there are companies that use 160 or more AM systems as a means of production and use them to capacity.« The difference is a concrete business concept, and this usually leads to specialization. »Service providers who say today that they can print everything in 3D are likely to fail,« says Schmidt-Lehr.

The right strategy should not only answer whether a company is entering the AM market, but also how it is doing it. The key factor here is the simple but often underestimated question of what exactly is to be produced additively. »After all, the application determines the technology,« explains Schmidt-Lehr. In order to facilitate the rather complex selection of the right technology, Ampower compared four different AM technologies for metal in its study. This shows how certain requirements (e.g. component size and costs, material requirements, development time, etc.) can be implemented optimally with which technology.

Offering additional know-how

Since the market for industrial 3D printing continues to be very attractive for suppliers, the study provides information on how to get started here as well. For example, opportunities and risks for suppliers are contrasted. For Schmidt-Lehr, the decisive factor is that, in addition to the mere product, a great deal of know-how can be offered throughout the entire process. »Most users and customers do not have this know-how. At the outset, there is hardly a user who knows exactly which machine or which material he needs.«

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