Germany Trade & Invest manufacturing industry expert Max Milbredt discusses the advantages of 3D printing in Europe’s largest economy.
What is special about Germany as a location for additive manufacturing businesses?
Germany has a strong tradition in manufacturing and industry and is a leader among developed countries. Germany was part of the development of 3D printing technology from early on. Because of this tradition and the excellent training of engineers in Germany, Germany is quite strong both in the industrial and hobby and design realms. Some of the world’s leaders in metal printing are located in Germany.
Are there any particular strengths or weaknesses in the country's 3D printing arena?
Germany is especially strong in metal 3D printing. More work needs to be done on manufacturing in the area of polymers. And German small- to-medium-sized enterprises represent a major opportunity. According to estimates, around two-thirds of industrial companies still don’t use additive manufacturing in everyday production.
What makes the German market so attractive for international companies?
Last year, the 3D printing market grew by more than 21 percent. With turnover of EUR 1.3 billion, Germany is the world’s largest market for this technology. It’s the home country of the most important and largest trade fair in the sector, Formnext, which attracted 28 percent more visitors from 2018 to 2019. The number of exhibitors also rose by 35 percent, growing to 852. Moreover, Germany is an excellent location for the main sectors where this technology is used. The automotive, aerospace and rail industries and the health care sectors are all major potential customers in Europe’s largest market.
Can you give some examples of 3D technology being practically used in industrial production and everyday life?
There are many uses these days. Airbus, for example, uses 3D-printed parts to reduce the weight of its airplanes. Metal 3D printing is well suited to the rail and automotive industries. Customized individual replacement teeth and other prosthetics have been additively manufactured for quite some time in Germany. Whole buildings can now be “printed.” And there’s a company near Munich that makes chocolate, marzipan and noodles in customized shapes.
The coronavirus pandemic has had severe ramifications for the world economy. How will the 3D printing sector weather the storm?
There are no doubt positives and negatives. For instance, major customers in the automotive and aerospace industries are cutting back because of the pandemic. On the other hand, 3D printing is a digital technology and will gain in importance along with things like e-commerce and online meetings. At the height of the lockdowns around the world, additive manufacturing designs for ventilator parts and facial visors were approved in many countries. The EU Commission issued tenders for such medical products, and more than 250 companies from Europe and Germany took part. The 3D printing sector has helped alleviate shortages in medical products and showed how quickly manufacturing processes can react.
How can international companies benefit from German advantages in additive manufacturing? Can you give some examples?
Germany has a long tradition of formal construction and innovative engineering with a strong manufacturing sector. Thanks to its large industrial companies and excellent architects, designers and the like, Germany offers an ideal market for novel production techniques. Germany is also attractive for international employees and specialists – its cities continually rank among the world’s most livable places. Germany Trade & Invest helped American company Formlabs expand to Berlin - from where it does business with all of Europe. This year, the Australian company Spee3D also came to Germany. Amongst other things, it produces an innovative surface coating that has antiviral properties.
From Max Milbredt