3D printing and the world of additive manufacturing were an undeniably lawless realm at first. As uses for the technology have grown over the years though, and both industry and consumers are involved, guidelines have become more important. The European Association of the Machine Tool Industries (CECIMO), in watching out for the interests of their members—as well as promoting technology within their sector—has now released their own overview of relevant AM policies which they explain deserves ‘priority attention of EU authorities.’ The CECIMO document is a compilation of input from numerous experts and offers advice on how to ‘speed up the AM intake.’
The European Additive Manufacturing Strategy is meant as reading for stakeholders and policymakers, but offers a wealth of information regarding 3D printing and AM today for everyone, with many crucial points we should all consider.
“The European advanced manufacturing industry has maintained over time a global leading position, and it can be considered a gem of the European economy. With the rise of additive manufacturing (AM) technologies on the shop floor, industry entered a new round of innovation,” states Filip Geerts, Director General, in the Foreword. “If Europe aims to remain a leader on advanced manufacturing production, it will need to succeed in the global race to industrialise additive manufacturing. After all, we have to remember that our AM machine producers and application sectors alike are competing nowadays on the global scale with countries such as the US, China and Japan.”
The strategy tackles education first, making the point that graduates in fields geared toward AM should have skills in line with what companies actually need. A greater focus is recommended on sharing of curriculum, the creation of fab-labs, AM courses at every level, more funding, and better financing so universities can purchase AM equipment to train students.
“A survey conducted in 2016 by a print management solutions company showed 87% of schools across the world limited students’ access to 3D printing. The three main reasons were: educators’ inability to manage and control access to the 3D printer available in the school, educators’ inability to manage 3D printing time and materials cost in order to allocate classroom/department expenses, as well as lack of guidance on adding 3D printing to classroom curricula. A greater engagement of industry in education would help tackling some of these aspects,” states CECIMO.
The topic of standards is tackled in the document—and it certainly is not the first discussion worldwide. CECIMO points out an item of major importance:
“The general trend in AM sees AM players developing their own internal sets of standards. The fragmentation that derives has an impact on the pace of adoption of AM in the industrial context, as extra time is spent on qualifying and validating materials, processes as well as end-products. Standardization-development efforts are currently channelled on design and data formats, test methods, process materials and terminology.”
The strategy points out that standards should be created and strengthened through technical committees and standardization bodies, as well as offering more emphasis on this in developing nations.
Intellectual property rights and copyrighting in relation to 3D printing and AM is a continuing source of discussion—as well as frustration for some who struggle to keep ownership of their designs in a world that becomes more and more open-source.
“Intellectual property rights (IPR) must be considered in the group of relevant aspects for AM in Europe. Industries such as the aerospace, the surgical planning and the spare parts are concerned by the developments. Since its importance is set to grow in parallel with the industrialization of AM, decision-makers should place this issue high in their agenda. They will need to better enforce the current rules to provide assurances, for instance, to conventional manufacturers fearing the theft of their digitally created designs or the reproduction of parts/tools of it. The ownership of these files is an area where greater legal certainty is needed. Better enforcement of the current regulatory framework would contribute to reduce these fear.”
The strategy goes on to point out that patenting in Europe is much more expensive and causes both fragmentation as well as ‘obstacles’ for new companies.
The idea that innovative startups should be encouraged is an idea being embraced worldwide. With that in mind, the strategy points out that better financing is needed. It’s no secret that no matter where you might be trying to open a new business, if you lack capital it will be an uphill struggle. The strategy addresses that issue in terms of 3D printing-oriented startups:
“Support should come from the public sector, as authorities could match demand and supply of capital and push forward with forms of ‘blended’ finance that mix private and public capitals. EU decision-makers should also bring about coherence in the European Venture Capital market. High fragmentation implies that venture capital managers face large costs when raising funds across Europe. Thus, initiatives like the European Commission’s proposal for a panEuropean venture capital fund of funds are welcomed. It would go in the right direction of creating more opportunities and strengthening an underdeveloped European venture capital market. Also the completion of the Capital Markets Union would improve access to finance by SMEs.”
Cyber security must be discussed, obviously, and the strategy outlines why it must be considered and used. From digital files being corrupted to products being created with underlying defects, there are numerous reasons why 3D printing and AM processes should be protected.
“The recent EU Cyber-Security Directive has paved the way for a minimum level of security for digital technologies, networks and services. Now attention should turn on minimizing the probabilities of cyber-attacks in the first place.
Cooperation among law enforcement agencies will be a valuable tool in preventing these threats and for information gathering activities. To minimize cyber-risks, these bodies will also need to boost expertise in a fast-evolving environment. Training of officials will therefore be needed. Along these lines, in July 2016 the EU launched the first European PPP on cyber-security. It aimed at pooling cyber-security expertise and bringing together different actors from EU countries. More should be done in this direction. Only a coordinated vision will provide robust and lasting solutions.”
Health and safety issues regarding the technology are of major concern as well, and the strategy points out that more standards should be put in place, whether for desktop or industrial processes, and studies should continue.
“There is a risk in the exposure to metal powders such as aluminum, which implies workers must observe strict safety standards when handling such materials. EU-level harmonized guidelines are needed in this domain. Policy-makers will also need to explore whether applicable health and safety provisions can be borrowed from other sectors. Existing standards for conventional machines, for example, may prove to be suitable for new generation machines.”
The strategy also discusses exactly how important global trade is for AM, as it will allow for further growth. They identify ‘two gaps,’ with the first being that of so-called EU dual-use export control regulation. The second is that of the international product nomenclature developed by the World Customs Organization (WCO): the Harmonized Commodity Description and Coding System. It is advised that ‘actors outside the international regime’ should be involved, and seeks greater support in the nomenclature for classification of AM.CECIMO]