Exclusive Interview with Bernhard Langefeld
Principal at Roland Berger, Engineered Products & High Tech
– What potential do you see in additive manufacturing technologies in the next 10 years?
I think additive manufacturing has a great potential, however some constraints exist. Additive Manufacturing (AM) was originally used to produce plastic prototypes. In this field, manufacturing processes are well developed and provide enormous opportunities, for series of goods where the differences between individual parts are small. Nowadays, AM also found its way in mass production of industrial parts. I am a bit sceptical about this, as these processes are, even when using plastics, still highly expensive. Until now only a few products exist for which mass production with AM is profitable. The aim basically is to optimise the costs of series of products over all phases of their life cycle through AM. Weight reduction or optimised combustion are the biggest drivers to reduce costs during use phase. AM is best used by specialised suppliers in tool and mould making, as well as the medical technology industry. However, especially big corporations are now the decisive drivers in order to use AM in future mass production of plastic and metal parts.
– What problems, threats and risks do you see in the dissemination of 3D printing technologies?
The biggest risk I see is a quality and liability issue by so called “pirates”. These illegally acting service providers can quickly and easily copy, produce and circulate spare parts produced through AM. Such a copy of a spare part would be far too expensive, so that an increase in product piracy through AM technologies is rather unlikely.
– In which sector do you think additive production will be applied in the future?
I think AM will most likely be applied in the industry sector. In the medical sector, the key advantage of additive produced implants is already highly visible. Dental technicians can extract the geometric data of the jaw scan and directly 3D print the crown without any tools. Another scope is the aerospace sector, where injection nozzles for engines or air ducts are produced with AM.
– Can these technologies make a contribution to a new „industrial revolution“?
The evolution is certainly partly revolutionary, because of its renunciation of classic tools and process chains. However, this revolution is not happening suddenly, but gradually – it is therefore more the continuation of an industrial evolution. Another ten years will pass before we will have the same results with metal materials than we have already with plastics now.
– Will there be further fusions of companies specialised in 3D printing technologies?
I think that the first consolidation wave is already finished by 80%. At present, the four most important producers of 3D printers for metal are based in Germany. However, some important patents will expire soon, which will have as consequence that new players will enter the market. Some US producers will certainly try to catch attention in order to keep the defence and aerospace industry in their own hands.
– What developments do you expect in the next 5 years?
In my opinion, production costs for metal manufacturing need to decrease in order to gain more market share in new scopes. Besides the costs, the quality of printable materials is decisive: work is being done in making it possible to process materials with high standards in strength and stiffness.
– From a consultant perspective: where do you see the strength of the technology? How does Roland Berger assist its customers?
We assist two different types of customers in AM. On the one hand big corporations that cover AM in the area of research & development and that are interested in a fast industrialisation. On the other hand, we assist companies that haven’t known AM so far. We help them to make a decision whether to invest in AM or not and which costs would be associated. In both cases, we develop a strategy with our customers for the right handling of AM.
6 March, 2014 - 12.33 PM