Powering the Future: EOS’s Fabian Alefeld on Additive Manufacturing

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In the world of 3D printing, innovation is a constant. However, the industry faces a complex landscape marked by opportunities and challenges. In 2023, the global 3D printing market totaled $14.7 billion and is expected to intensify in 2024 and beyond, according to Additive Manufacturing Research. Yet, this expansion comes amid supply chain disruptions, fluctuating purchasing trends, and the need for more skilled professionals to manage advanced manufacturing technologies. Companies invest heavily in R&D, creating new materials, and improving software to boost production and increase output.

Fabian Alefeld, Senior Manager of Additive Minds Consulting and Academy at EOS, is at the forefront of this technological revolution. A specialized team within EOS, Additive Minds focuses on customer success with engineering, consulting, and educational services. As one of the largest teams in the industry, they help clients from initial application development to total production.

During a recent interview with 3DPrint.com, Alefeld shared his thoughts on some of the future trends in additive manufacturing (AM), the role of artificial intelligence (AI), and the reshoring of production efforts. Adding to this momentum, EOS recently announced the launch of its new Additive Minds Academy Center in Novi, Michigan, strengthening its dedication to AM education and the industry at large.

“I think there are always going to be trends within additive of new technologies and new lasers, but what’s more interesting to me is how trends from outside perspectives will impact our industry,” said Alefeld. “For instance, how AI and reshoring manufacturing efforts in the U.S. and Europe are creating new opportunities for 3D printing.”

AI

AI is revolutionizing industries worldwide, and 3D printing is no exception.

“The impact of AI on our industry will be significant. From accelerating material development to making CAD design more intuitive, AI will help drive innovation faster and at a lower cost, reducing barriers for new applications and technologies in additive manufacturing,” Alefeld said.

EOS’s Additive Minds Academy center.

What’s more, AI is set to accelerate material development, a critical aspect of AM: “AI can take the investments going into research and see them trickle down into manufacturing, making it easier and faster to think about new materials, new alloys for specific challenges.”

The EOS veteran compares Google‘s DeepMind project, AlphaFold, to the potential use of AI in 3D printing. AlphaFold predicts the 3D structure of proteins, a breakthrough with significant implications for biology and medicine. Similarly, Alefeld envisions AI in 3D printing, predicting and understanding material behaviors, which could streamline the development of new materials and reduce associated costs.

“AlphaFold’s advancements can inspire similar breakthroughs in our field.”

Beyond materials, AI is also transforming the design process. Traditional computer-aided design (CAD) is labor-intensive and requires significant expertise. However, Alefeld envisions a future where designing objects becomes more intuitive and accessible. Instead of manually drawing complex shapes, users could simply input text commands, such as “design me a sphere of six inches in diameter.” This shift towards more intuitive design interfaces could democratize design, making it accessible to a broader range of people and driving demand for AM technologies.

Energy

At the intersection of AI and energy efficiency, there is another exciting development in AM. As AI-driven technologies, like large language models, require substantial computing power, they increase the demand for efficient energy solutions. This is because AI requires more GPUs (Graphics Processing Units) in data centers and specialized circuits that accelerate image rendering and complex calculations. These GPUs generate significant heat that needs to be managed, making efficient energy solutions and better thermal management essential to support these data centers.

For years, data centers had a stable need for power, even as workloads increased. Now, with fewer improvements in energy efficiency and the rise of AI, Goldman Sachs Research estimates data center power demand will grow 160% by 2030. Alefeld says AM can create thermo management solutions, such as 3D printed heat exchangers, which are crucial for managing this heat.

Moreover, AM also plays a significant role in broader energy solutions: “At EOS, we see plenty of applications like printing parts for gas turbines and transitioning to green hydrogen for big players like Siemens Energy, which can lead to emissions-free energy production. This will be crucial as we need more stable and cheaper energy sources to support the boom in AI and other advanced technologies.”

Aside from turbines, Alefeld also discussed the potential of micro nuclear reactors, which can be pre-assembled and deployed quickly, unlike traditional reactors that take years to build. He explained that micro reactors can be set up within a few months, offering a more distributed and lower-risk energy solution. These innovations highlight the pivotal role of AM in addressing the growing energy demands driven by AI advances.

Reshoring

Reshoring manufacturing is a significant trend driven by global supply chain challenges. Both the U.S. and Europe are facing issues that reshoring can help solve. In May 2024, U.S. leaders announced new tariffs on critical goods from China, showing the need for local production capabilities. These tariffs are meant to cut reliance on foreign manufacturing and highlight the importance of domestic production. Here, AM offers a solution by allowing local, on-demand production of high-value parts, helping companies navigate these supply chain disruptions more efficiently.

“We’ve heard this multiple times, but it’s very accurate. AM can replace conventional technologies in a faster and sometimes better or cheaper way,” Alefeld stated. “This is particularly relevant for industries like defense, where the U.S. Navy is turning to 3D printing to source parts that are no longer produced by traditional means. EOS is actively involved in these efforts, providing the technology needed to produce complex parts more efficiently and sustainably.”

However, none of these advances will be possible without workforce education to support these trends. To this end, EOS recently invested $500,000 in its new Additive Minds facility. With the launch of the new center, the company is not only advancing technology but also ensuring a skilled workforce to support all of its future developments.

“We have a huge gap of workforce availability in the manufacturing sector,” he said. “To address this, EOS’s Additive Minds Academy offers both online and in-person training to equip workers with the skills needed for AM. We believe that education is one of the key components to build up a stronger AM industry.”

With labor shortages and increasing production demands, automation can help maintain productivity and efficiency. Alefeld shared that EOS collaborates with companies like Solukon to develop automated solutions for tasks like post-processing and unpacking. The key to automation is that it can keep production running smoothly, even during off-hours.

Collaboration is equally important in advancing the industry. EOS partners with companies such as Autodesk to integrate their technologies and streamline workflows, making them more efficient and accessible.

EOS’s Additive Minds Academy center.

With AI, energy novelties, reshoring, and automation set to drive progress in the industry, the future sounds promising. As Alefeld concludes, “I still see a bright future for the industry, and these trends will help accelerate it.” By focusing on these key trends, EOS is moving forward with technology and ensuring that it plays a crucial role in addressing global challenges.

All images courtesy of EOS

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