Inside Materialise Headquarters: 3D Printing Innovation & Anticipation on the Eve of MWS17

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The Materialise World Summit begins tomorrow in Brussels, Belgium and anticipation for the event is high. With the promise of multinational experts sharing their views and findings on 3D printing, digitization, healthcare, manufacturing, the future and more, MWS17 is bringing together nearly 700 attendees from around the world. Ahead of the event, I had the opportunity today to visit Materialise‘s company headquarters in Leuven, located about 20 minutes away from Brussels, to see inside the operations of one of the most influential companies in the 3D printing world.

Materialise has been in operations since 1990, taking a unique approach to the business and regularly reevaluating its business strategies to best fit into the evolving industry. A small contingent of invited press were among several hundred visitors today to the Leuven HQ to visit with the technology Materialise puts to use. The brief tour showcased several of the facility’s 144 machines and operations, which extend from medical metal 3D printing to post-processing/finishing requiring a good deal of craftsmanship. A benefit of the facility, Corporate Communications Manager Vanessa Palsenbarg explained, is that feedback can be quite immediate; software feedback can be relayed quickly to the hardware team following a quick walk across the expanding campus (the much-needed next building is due to open this summer).

A look into the future of the Leuven facility

Materialise works in an “equipment agnostic” manner, employing industrial 3D printers from Stratasys alongside those from EOS, as well as the large-scale Mammoth 3D printers that are the only machines Materialise makes (but does not sell), and so is able to turn to different equipment for different additive manufacturing needs. As Palsenbarg noted, it is helpful to see how all systems interact, including with Materialise software. The company works with customers and companies across a variety of industries, and are now seeing that the challenge in a maturing industry is less client education and more “finding where 3D printing logically fits, and adds value to manufacturing.”

Co-creation is a big focus for the company, as exemplified through their participation in the eyewear industry with Yuniku. Work in eyewear allows for customized, one-of-kind creations made to fit a unique face and tastes. Lessons gained from this work extend as well to work done on 3D printed titanium implants, as Palsenbarg said:

“Creating eyewear with this technology doesn’t replace opticians; they play a key role, and still understand design best. This augments the skills of a good optician, and takes away some of the finicky bits.”

She continued, discussing medical models and surgical guides, “With these guides, it’s not planning the surgery, it’s putting that plan into action.”

Now with the Materialise World Summit looming on the horizon, the team have been busy gathering together some well-informed individuals to share information through two tracks — Additive Manufacturing and Healthcare — as well as networking events over the conference’s two days. MWS is held once every two years (or so; there was a three-year gap prior to the last event, in 2015, which was timed to coincide with the company’s 25th anniversary). For 2017, there’s a lot to look forward to as the theme reminds us all to “Think. Beyond. Together.” With keynotes from the company’s CEO, Fried Vancraen, as well as government officials, physicians, and more, as well as speakers and panels addressing a broad range of topics all ultimately looking toward the future that advanced manufacturing technologies are making possible, MWS17 is indeed preparing us to think beyond.

View from the Square – Brussels Meeting Center, the venue for MWS17

3DPrint.com will be present throughout the event, sharing insights right from Brussels; stay tuned here and be sure to follow #MWS17 on social media for all the latest at this expert-heavy gathering.

Below is a look inside more of the creations 3D printed by Materialise, as well as some materials available from i.materialise, on view in Leuven. As ever, 3D printing allows for incredible bespoke lighting and some familiar fashion creations, always a popular showcase for the technology.

 

[All photos: Sarah Goehrke]

 

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