Additive manufacturing is a fast-growing tech vertical, still only at the beginning of its promising journey. It’s an area that has the potential to impact the future of how societies develop, offering more sustainable and efficient ways to manufacture, recycle and more. Recently, we travelled to the annual AMTC to learn more about this innovative market area.
Additive manufacturing takes a nature-based approach to manufacturing and is about building something from the ground up. It refers to the industrial production process of 3D printing, a computer-controlled process that creates three-dimensional objects by depositing materials, usually in layers. While additive manufacturing seems new to many, it has actually been around for several decades and is now bringing digital flexibility, efficiency and more sustainability to manufacturing operations
The potential power and influence that additive manufacturing can have in how society develops is quite monumental. At the 2022 edition of AMTC, we caught up with Arno Held, Managing Partner, from AM Ventures to learn more.
According to Arno, AM Ventures is all about “making valuable investments into 3D printing companies. The underlying aim is to invest in the innovators in this industry, creating a new generation of AM disruptors.”
As far as Arno is concerned, the investment strategy works both ways, with both AM Ventures and the portfolio companies working in tandem to impact change and reap the rewards.
“Their job is to increase their slice of the pie and we want to make the pie bigger as an investor.”
So, what is AM all about, according to AM Ventures?
As the expert in AM and 3D Printing, we figured Arno would be able to shed some light on this question. AM is a growing industry and completely differs from conventional manufacturing processes, but for those of us not familiarly acquainted with it, it can be hard to understand.
He explained: “As a manufacturing principle, AM is layer-based manufacturing.
When you look at the conventional way of producing things, this is mostly subtractive. You have a lot of predefined mechanical properties and you craft a contour out of it. The original geometry is already in there, you just haven’t taken it out. This is conventional manufacturing which also means that you are producing a lot of waste, a lot of metal chips for example.
Additive manufacturing is actually working as nature has worked in evolution. You build, and you add Voxel by Voxel. Voxel is a three-dimensional pixel, so you add volume elements and build something from the ground up which enables you to define what a part looks like from the inside. It means you can build organic shapes, hollow parts, lightweight structures and so forth.”
What are the benefits?
AM inherently operates in a more sustainable manner. It’s less wasteful, more efficient and more cost-effective. We wanted to find out more about why this is a game-changer for manufacturing processes.
“There are a few main benefits. The first is that this is a digital manufacturing process, which means that new products are designed in the virtual space, simulated and optimized in virtual space and 3D printing is the technology that pulls them into the real world. Therefore, files are travelling the world, rather than physical goods.”
It means that goods don’t get caught up with logistical and supply issues, and also reduces the amount of ground transportation being used – which is better for the environment and bank accounts. So, not only does AM seem to be more sustainable in terms of the product produced, but also in the ways we share products and goods and supply a growing demand.
Arno also points out that the tech can be used to completely individualise products – producing exactly what is needed when it is needed.
“You can produce hollow parts, lightweight structures and organic structures by completely different principles of product design and individualize these products. The 3D printer doesn’t care if it produces a thousand identical products or a thousand slightly customized ones. So that means shoes, glasses, implants, dental replacement, all tailored to the human body, for example.”
This also means the resulting products contribute a whole lot less waste than conventional processes.
“It’s not about sexiness, it’s about real value for society, for the planet. And this is what we have to focus on and show that additive manufacturing is generating a lot of value in the background by saving energy and materials.”
Key market areas
Given the inherent benefits of AM, where exactly can this tech make the most impact?
Arno emphasized that AM is being applied across verticals, from the healthcare sector where it’s being used for dental reasons (like aligners, implants) and reconstruction of the human body to climate tech, where it’s creating new heat exchanges and new types of filters. It’s also relevant for anything aviation and space related as it’s capable of creating organized structures that are much more lightweight than conventional counterparts. -which could have implications for the future of travel.
What’s most exciting, though, is that these applications are already making tangible impacts. And it’s only the beginning.
What does the future hold for AM?
AM clearly holds a lot of power to impact people’s lives – whether it be applied to printing prosthetics or filters to clear plastic from the ocean. So how exactly can AM be further promoted to continue to grow, and unleash the power that it holds?
As Arno comments, AM isn’t necessarily a new tech phenomenon – it’s been going on since the 80s, but what has changed is that now it’s accelerating fast, and that is thanks to events like AMTC and increased attention to the inherent benefits of the tech. What we need to do is pull AM into the mainstream.
“I feel right now that we are in a very, very interesting point where the big applications are now coming to light, coming into the mainstream.”
And what’s pulling AM into the mainstream?
According to Arno, it’s the sheer necessity of it – and the fact that different crises have brought that to light.
“A crisis also helps certain technologies in terms of a breakthrough. And this is what’s happening at the moment because the world needs to be much more digitized, the world needs to be much more resource efficient. We need more devices that save energy and materials and 3D printing is the technology that enables all this.”
Overcoming challenges needs collaboration
Fittingly enough, whilst we were at an event dedicated to AM, Arno believes that discussing industry standards and coming together to consider the best ways to bring products to the mass market is the first step forward.
It’s all about cooperation, collaboration and cohesion.
“Right now everyone is fighting for their slice of the pie. However, we all know that if the pie is getting bigger, your slice is automatically getting bigger.
“We’ve been working for eight years now since we started on growing that pie and making sure that everyone collaborates because this industry is so small compared to conventional manufacturing. Global manufacturing is a multi-trillion dollar market and additive manufacturing is less than 0.1% of global manufacturing. So imagine if we only get to 1% or 2% of global manufacturing.
There’s so much space for everyone, but it needs a lot of collaboration settings, standards, jointly developing materials and the elements in the process chain and the applications so that we can make sure that the quality of the scales.
“Challenges are always opportunities depending on what angle you’re looking at from. And I’m convinced that the Am industry is a very interesting breeding ground for impact startups for companies that are conducting business in a completely different way.”
AM Ventures investment strategy
AM Ventures is committed, in Arno’s words, to “growing the pie” of AM, making sure this industry becomes as powerful as it has the potential to be. Explaining the firm’s investment strategy, he explained:
“Our general investment strategy is investing at a quite early stage into a handful of people and supporting them to build a viable business.”
All of us involved in AM Ventures, myself and my team included, we have more than 100 years of experience with this sector combined. I’m convinced that there’s no one else out there that can evaluate technology in such an early phase as we can, which is why we are able to make a genuine difference.
We have invested in 18 businesses in six countries on three continents. The cool thing about our investment portfolio is they all have something to share, they all have something in common because they’re all playing in the field of additive manufacturing.”
AMTC: Driving forward net zero through collaboration
The AM industry is at an interesting point in its lifespan. It’s now being driven forward by massive technological development that is enabling products to scale. And this is happening at a time of real need for tech developments. It means that an innovation is benefiting from both tech capabilities, generous investors and an urgency that naturally feeds innovation and creativity.
But as with everything, collaboration and the sharing of ideas is what can prove pivotal in defining a project. AMTC, operating on a global basis, brings together the change-makers, the corporates, the fresh minds and the investors together to spark those imprint discussions and to help drive net zero.
AMTC can play a defining role in the future of this industry, which in turn defines the future of society.
“AMTC has the highest density of decision makers from our industry coming together every year, either in Munich or in Aachen. A startup, in order to become successful, needs to be where decisions are being made. They need to be in touch with the big guys, with the top-level guys of corporations. They need to find out where the market is going so that they can either follow or also determine the fate of the market by providing new technology. And therefore you have to go to the place where the decisions are being made. This is where it is.”
AM Ventures is one of the leading European venture capital firms in industrial 3D printing (additive manufacturing, AM) and has an extensive portfolio. The team possesses in-depth technology know-how and is well-connected with the most experienced experts in the field. As an investment partner, the company provides a globally leading ecosystem of sustainable investments in AM and introduces entrepreneurs to a large pool of industry veterans.
AMTC: AM Technology Conference is an annual event that brings together different players in the AM industry from across the world. Including corporates of global enterprises like Boeing and Audi as well as investors and startups innovating at the early stages of product development, the event aims to open up discussions that will push forward this growing industry.