The global companies investing in 3D printing research
An increasing number of industry leaders around the world are not only exploring how 3D printing can be applied within their workflows, but also showing their commitment to the technology by funding cutting-edge research into new printing methods, materials and process enhancements. This includes both investment in academic institutions’ work, the establishment of new research facilities, and support for 3D printing startups who are developing truly disruptive technologies. This financial commitment is a sign of how seriously manufacturers are taking 3D printing and its place in tomorrow’s smart factories.
Let’s look at some of the leading investors in 3D printing research and how their support is laying the foundation for the future of our industry…
In June of 2017, Lockheed Martin provided Metropolitan State University of Denver (MSU) with a $1 million grant as of the inauguration of its new Aerospace and Engineering Sciences Building. This is the latest step in a long-standing partnership, as Lockheed Martin originally helped MSU establish the curriculum for their BA in Additive Manufacturing Sciences. This grant is intended to fund ongoing research into the potential applications of 3D printing in the world of space travel. The funds will be used to fund a dedicated Additive Manufacturing Laboratory on campus, where students will be able to print their designs for aerospace components using cutting-edge facilities.
In 2015, Rolls Royce — part of the BMW group — collaborated with the University of Sheffield’s Department of Materials Science and Engineering to 3D print the world’s biggest jet engine component. The BMW Group as a whole has been a staunch champion of industrial 3D printing for more than 25 years now, opening its own Rapid Technologies Centre back in 1990, and has continued to provide financial support for innovative AM startups, including Carbon and Desktop Metal in recent years.
Boeing have provided ongoing support for Sheffield’s Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre, with a particular focus on 3D printing in the aerospace sector. In 2017, Boeing and the AMRC announced the development of a new 3D printing hybrid process, which will allow electrical, optical and structural elements to be incorporated into a part during the printing process. In the same year, the company announced the launch of a dedicated venture capital section of their business that would provide financial support to startups working in new, disruptive technologies — including 3D printing.
Siemens has been a partner of the Georgia Institute of Technology for more than 20 years, and worked closely with them on the development of 3D printed turbines, which came to fruition in 2017. They also provided 3D printing startups with hands-on support in the form of free access to their PLM software suite via their Frontier Partner Program. Furthermore, Siemens has continued to expand their in-house capabilities in 3D printing technology and software by acquiring a number of up-and-coming AM specialists — including the UK’s Materials Solutions — and opening a $23.8-million production facility dedicated to metal 3D printing.
Airbus partnered with Autodesk University in 2015 to create the world’s largest 3D printed cabin structure, created using auto generative design. This collaboration has huge implications for the wider 3D printing sector, as it shows an industry leader providing investment in the software needed to successfully implement 3D printing in an industrial context. Following the success of this collaboration, Airbus’ own venture capital fund invested a considerable sum into Local Motors’ research into 3D printing cars.
The US-based aluminium manufacturer has invested $60 million dollars to open a manufacturing centre devoted to metal 3D printing, with the long-term goal of developing more cost-effective techniques for printing metal parts.
2016 saw the medical leader announce the launch of their own industrial 3D printing facilities, valued at between $400-450 million. This was the latest step in Stryker’s ongoing work to establish industrial 3D printing in the medical sector, which included providing support for AM research at a number of leading universities, including the University of Liverpool and the University of Bristol. In 2017, they partnered with General Electric to further expand their AM capabilities.
General Electric’s AM branch, GE Additive, provided a powerful boost to AM education in 2017, when they announced a $2 million commitment to subsidising 3D printers in schools, at the primary, secondary and college level. At the same time, the company committed to devoting $8 million to providing 50 metal 3D printers for colleges and universities.
It is extremely encouraging to see these global companies providing the 3D printing sector with this level of financial support. The faith manufacturers are now showing in 3D printing research is sure to help accelerate the technology’s move towards industry 4.0 and build confidence among the general public.