As formnext 2017 gathered together a record number of attendees and exhibitors to Frankfurt, a number of shifts could be seen. Sheer numbers are impressive, but in the numbers from this year’s event was something of even greater import: quality.
“There has been a nice shift this year,” DSM VP of Additive Manufacturing Hugo da Silva told me as we sat down at the show. “There are many more end users. This has been great to see.”
For a materials company like Netherlands-based Royal DSM, end users represent a critical base: those putting final materials into action, frequently into critical-use applications requiring certifications and very specific material qualities. Seen throughout the company’s booth this year were examples in applications ranging from manufacturing to automotive.
Just ahead of formnext, DSM announced a new organizational approach, collecting its operations together into a tighter organizational structure under DSM Additive Manufacturing. The move highlights the seriousness with which DSM is taking 3D printing.
“Our main story this year is organizing all of our businesses together; everyone knows Somos, and last year we launched materials with a partner. Now there is one DSM additive manufacturing organization,” da Silva explained.
“We have a very strong belief in partnerships in industry – especially as it is moving from prototyping to manufacturing. This is a combined effort.”
Echoing a thought increasingly heard across the industry, collaborations are critical to how the entire company – not just DSM Additive Manufacturing – operates. One partnership da Silva pointed out in particular is that with Toyota Motorsports. As DSM takes an application focus, they are looking to their customers for cues.
“We have all these polymer technologies we can use for 3D printing; rather than push these, we look at our customers. We are well connected with customers like BMW and Toyota, with companies in electronics, in fabrics, in footwear. Combining all that we do into one activity allows us to leverage 20-plus years’ experience in 3D printing with more than 20-plus years’ experience in plastics,” he said.
“Let’s work together to make an application work. This is a benefit to DSM and to the whole industry.”
Of new product launches, da Silva noted that these are undeniably important – “but most important is our view.”
“Let’s do more, let’s get things connected, let’s get connected in industry,” he told me.
This mindset has been getting a good response from customers – and from partners.
“They can say they need these thermoplastics printed, and of course we can do this,” he said. “Maybe it takes DSM two years to make this happen; with a partner maybe it is one year.”
As new applications expand with the increasing viability of a variety of 3D printing technologies, a multitude of materials science companies are entering the ring. The rise in participants is a signal of ongoing maturation as real-world applications take hold and propel additive manufacturing toward reaching is potential. That rise, da Silva noted, is a positive.
“I am glad to see other global material companies here, it is great for the industry,” he said. “We are probably the oldest in materials science in this industry; we have been looking for the right moment to enter. We think this is the right moment.”
As DSM continues to work with partners and expand activities, da Silva noted of the company’s consolidated organization that this eases the path for its customers.
“Our customers don’t have to go through five businesses, now that we are together. This is very relevant for 3D printing to get bigger and bigger as an industry, as it goes from prototyping to production. At the end of the day, we want to support the end user,” he told me.
“We have knowledge, and through partnerships we can help to overcome challenges, like designing around 3D printing, like end-use production.”
Of particular benefit for DSM’s strategy is that this organizational approach is not unique to its additive activities. Collaboration, da Silva said, is “in the DNA of DSM.” Over the last five years, the company has been engaged in partnerships, joint ventures, mergers and acquisitions, and more, highlighting a bigger-picture view of the business environment.
“Other companies may see difficulties because of partnerships, which may not be in their core company’s interest; it is really in our DNA,” he said. “Not just for 3D printing; the whole company has initiatives to combine different bodies together, encouraging open innovators.”
Talking with da Silva showed a strong dedication to a long-term future, and one built on both applications and partnerships, for the materials company. As 3D printing continues to grow as an industry, materials innovations and close work with partners will lead to the real innovations bringing additive more deeply to manufacturing.
Discuss formnext 2017, and other 3D printing topics, at 3DPrintBoard.com or share your thoughts in the Facebook comments below.[All photos: Sarah Goehrke]