Interview With Kris Binon of Flam3D On Connecting Companies in 3D Printing

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As we mature as an industry standardization, advocacy, legal issues, regulatory issues and challenges beyond our current expertise lie at our horizon. We will at one point be blamed for something horrible and we will also face some regulatory pressure. At this moment periodic knee jerk legislation via PR is being foisted upon us. Who will help spread the truth about 3D printing and who will do advocacy on our behalf? One organization that has been growing steadily is Flam3D. Initially funded to promote the 3D printing industry in Flanders it has spread throughout Belgium and the Netherlands to connect and educate 3D printing businesses. Present at events, connecting people and bringing together information and companies Flam3D may just be that organization that connects us.

©Matthias Van Oost

What is Flam3D?

Flam3D is a network association for and by companies and research institutes active in the Additive Manufacturing Supply Chain and Ecosystem. It’s a demand-driven, bottom-up initiative now gathering over 100 members in the Netherlands and Flanders. We unite, represent and support, we connect and disseminate. Nowadays, I suppose you’d call it NAAAS – Networking & Advocacy-As A Service.

How are you funded?

Our deliberate choice to not play an active role in the AM supply chain makes it impossible for us to develop any real business. And that’s a good thing. As we say it: we don’t sell, we don’t produce, we don’t do research: our members do. Financially not the easiest choice, but we’re supported by membership fees and the Flemish Government. In view of the increasing success of the organisation, we’re looking for additional sources for funding in order to be able to offer a stable Return on Investment for our members. And to continue working on the dozens of ideas generated by our members.

What do you hope to achieve?

As most organisations, we should aim at making ourselves obsolete: when there’s no need for information on AM any more, when there are no more common interests to defend, when all children in school have AM in their curricula, we will have succeeded. I suppose we won’t be jobless any time soon though.

In the meantime: we aim for more growth of Additive Manufacturing in general, and for our members in particular. More than half of our members report extra business through their membership of Flam3D – that’s a prime “Performance Indicator” for us.

What events do you organize?

Networking and matchmaking in all kinds of disguises. The main aim remains the same: how do we get people to consider AM – and in some cases to reconsider it. You can name it dissemination events, information sessions, networking evenings, conferences, symposia, etc… but the name is just depending on the audience and their expectations.

What is holding companies back from adopting 3D Printing?

If you can demonstrate the Return on Investment, the value of the technology: nothing. Obviously, there are the usual excuses or reasons: time, money, complexity of the technology, steep learning curve required, reluctance to change, etc… But does it really matter? We think it doesn’t: as soon as the automotive sector, for example, was convinced of the potential, there wasn’t any valid reason not to start implementing AM. It’s a sales job, really, yet we’re not selling sand in the desert. We’re selling cars when some people are still asking for faster horses.

Now it seems that in order to do well companies have to master the boring stuff: ISO, compliance, accounting. Would you agree?

They’d better. I’d say it’s perhaps possible to achieve major growth without looking at “the boring stuff”. But in order to stay relevant, you’ll have to master these issues. For one reason: AM is still mainly relevant in high-tech sectors: medical, aerospace, automotive – that’s not the type of sectors where you can ignore regulations, rules and compliance. Nowadays the regulatory landscape forces any business to seriously consider this.

Where is our technology going?

Towards a standard manufacturing technology. It will all take quite a while – getting the standards right, knowing which technology to use for which application, etc. But in the end, a number of AM-technologies will be standard manufacturing practice.

So far we’ve done really well without government involvement, should we engage governments more?

Yes. But…
We should tell them (even more) what the playground looks like and explain the rules of this new game: what is the potential in medical applications? How can it support greener economies? Where should they aim?
We should also sell 3D-printing to them: what’s in it for them? A lot, in my perspective. To put it negatively: a government that doesn’t engage in new technologies will end up with a less competitive industry and economy.

However, I don’t intend to say to governments should start handing out subsidies and funding. And as it seems to be impossible to define what a good subsidy looks like, I’d say: on the contrary. Rather, they could create “ponds” for the ecosystem to develop: regulatory and tax shelter options where innovations get chances. They could also speed up the process of renewing outdated laws and regulations.

Lastly, governments could have a huge impact on education; I really can’t understand why this isn’t a matter of months rather than years, or why we even need to promote the idea.

Why should I become a member? What will you do for me?

There’s only one reason to become a member: if you see added value for yourself. Obviously we have a standard offer to our members – basically consisting of internal networking (between members), external networking (from members to potential users) and “other” (in which we help on our members’ marketing and communications, we work on education, insurance, discounts for members, etc).
We don’t exclude future expansion of our organisation, but at this moment, we’re targeting Flanders and the Netherlands only. Therefore, we have little to offer to companies and organisations outside this region; we rather cooperate with them then seeing them as potential members. We have, for example, found contacts for international projects, resellers for some printer providers, etc.

We have a unique model. As said earlier: we’re not taking a position inside the ecosystem. And we cooperate: we don’t duplicate or undermine efforts of other organisations, rather, we will look at potential win-win situations. That’s our strength and offers us an exceptional advantage.

Membership fees depend on the number of employees – it ranges from € 250 to € 2.500 and all details are available on our website. We didn’t want an “exclusive” club of a few wealthy companies, but rather a broad base of different specialties and types, in order to stimulate interaction.

You can check out Flam3D here.

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