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AMS Spring 2023

Interview: Materialise Acquires Identify3D to Bring Security to 3D Printing Software

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Materialise (Nasdaq: MTLS) has bought additive manufacturing (AM) software firm Identify3D and will integrate its security features into its own recently launched CO-AM platform. The company hopes that it will improve the safety, integrity, and quality of 3D printing for itself and the industry at large. To learn more, we spoke to Vishal Singh, founder of Link3D and, now, Senior Director for the CO-AM platform.

Improving 3D Printing Security, Integrity, and Quality

Using encryption, Identify3D traces and ensures the integrity of 3D printed parts. Additionally, the software ensures that the right materials and settings information are distributed along with the build file. With this in mind, Materialise believes more companies will be able to exchange files free from fears of them being hijacked, altered, or counterfeited in some way. Moreover, it aims to bring this integrity to its cloud-based CO-AM platform, which provides companies with a solution for manufacturing, analyzing and processing 3D printed parts.

In a press release, Materialise CEO Fried Vancraen elaborated on the necessity of file security in AM, saying, “We believe that the factory of the future will not be a single, central location. Instead, future manufacturing, enabled by smart technologies like 3D printing, will take place at multiple digital production sites, distributed around the world, closer to customers. But this will only be possible when companies are sure that their design and production data remains secure. This acquisition allows manufacturers to secure the flow of digital parts and maintain a competitive advantage.”

Joe Inkenbrandt, the CEO of Identify3D, echoed this sentiment: “At the center of a digital supply chain is movement of valuable data from design through manufacturing, Our mission has always been to address the security and integrity of that data. Integrating our software in the Materialise CO-AM platform allows us to fully unlock its potential and give customers security and control of their data in a way never seen before in the industry.”

Vishal Singh Weighs in

Vishal Singh was able to discuss the acquisition in greater detail. Singh is emphatic about integrating the digital thread and making Materialise tools accessible for manufacturing. To that end, he explained the issue of sharing operator expertise in a digital manner:

¨With CO-AM, we’re trying to plan, do, and check. We look at costs, quoting, planning, scheduling, post-processing, and a check phase for QMS and QA. But, a plan-do-and -heck phase is not good enough without, learn. For example, operator knowledge is invaluable, there is a huge amount of knowledge in the operator’s head. But, how do we get this knowledge and make it sharable? How can we track, trace, and have all of our software solutions in one ecosystem?

He further elaborated on the way in which third-party apps can increase the capabilities of the CO-AM platform and, therefore, 3D printing overall.

“We hope to let customers ramp up to production in additive and have higher return of investment. We’re doing that through our connected ecosystem, which also has an app store, with which third parties build software, as have Castor and AM-Flow,” Singh said. Castor is a unique software designed for identifying 3D printable parts within a company’s inventory, while AM-Flow is a developer of 3D printing automation solutions.

Speaking more specifically about the role of Identify3D within CO-AM and AM at large, Singh suggested that security will enable users to more easily scale their 3D printing capabilities.

¨Because of systemic shocks, war, and supply chain interruptions people are looking more at additive and managing additive. CO-AM, allows distributed manufacturing to happen,” Singh said. “We’re really there for people who are scaling AM in-house and are scaling third party supply. With us, they can now guarantee quality, security and integrity. The Identify3D acquisition allows CO-AM to become the most secure platform to scale their business. Overall, it will enhance the security of our [CO-AM] platform. In addition it will help to securely manage third party data and how to control it. How to manage data security and data integrity is important.”

However, Identify3D goes beyond security features alone. According to Singh, the software will also improve overall quality within a 3D printing operation. That, therefore, extends to the qualification of a production process and parts, particularly for industries where traceability standards are key. He explained:

“Another key challenge is a company qualifies a build internally, how to they then communicate this data with external parties. How do we know that the printer is using the same settings? In some cases, the build file is controlled by the printer. In other cases, the settings are established on demand. We help deliver the settings and the build file. We don’t just transfer data. We help you manage your recipe in a compliant and traceable way. We see outsourcing is happening more and more. More companies also have mixed environments, where they are doing production internally and externally. We can power these different factory workflows, internally and externally, in a secure manner.¨

Singh was able to tell us how exactly Materialise will move forward with CO-AM. In particular, he spoke to the ability of the software to connect to a business’s existing software tools, as well as the role of artificial intelligence (AI) in CO-AM.

“We want to eliminate artificial inflexibility in the ecosystem, work deeply with hardware and software vendors to make everything more frictionless. We will have a modular system that is very open to integration with PLM, ERP, and MES, with connectors available out of the box. We believe that better software will lead to capacity expansion and better ROI for the industry,” Singh said. “We also have a learning component that can let companies improve. We believe in a layer of machine learning above the data. Combining operator knowledge with expert-based rules and AI components will let us make more recommendations for improvement similar to how Spotify makes music recommendations for you.¨

With this latest development, not only is Materialise advancing its CO-AM platform, but we’re seeing the larger AM industry fall in line with the trends outlined in the “Automation, Additive Manufacturing and the Factory of the Future” report from SmarTech Analysis. While automation will, of course, include new robotic hardware for conveying 3D printed parts and powders around a factory floor, this will be nothing without a strong software backbone the likes of which Materialise is currently building.

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