For EOS, the focus is on industry as 3D printing moves beyond the niche.
At IMTS, the Germany-based company introduced its latest metal machine, the M300-4, but that wasn’t what struck the company’s CEO as the biggest point of interest for the busy manufacturing technology show.
“There are about 2,500 exhibitors displaying metal; in additive manufacturing, about 25. That’s about 1%,” Dr. Adrian Keppler told me as we sat down.
“What’s interesting for me is not new machines, but what we have to do to develop as an industry, from 1% to 5%, 10%, 20%, or more; what do we have do to to convert from traditional to additive manufacturing? That’s what keeps us busy. The machine is just one element. We need much more.”
EOS has been kept busy indeed, as the new machine was one of several metal introductions in the Additive Manufacturing Pavilion at IMTS 2018.
We’ve been in touch with EOS lately to discuss their overall strategic approaches as additive moves more squarely into manufacturing, and sitting down with Keppler afforded the opportunity for an interesting discussion on the mainstay company’s perspective on the industry as they approach their 30th anniversary.
“It starts with engineers and designers,” Keppler continued. “We need to get them to think additively. If they are not thinking additively, we’ll never achieve our goal. This is why we developed Additive Minds, to help develop this journey. Our Additive Mile helps customers understand how to design, how to set up, how to start small and scale up. We support our customers because the faster they are successful, the faster we will be successful.”
These developments have some “tailwind,” he said, through wide support of Industry 4.0. As “everyone is talking digitization,” 3D printing is a technology fitting very neatly into this digital trend. It is, he underscored, a “fully digital technology” that enables dexterity in production.
Repeatability is critical for production, and machine-to-machine consistency enables the same parts with the same qualities to be produced at any installation site. Production where the customer is represents a key benefit of Industry 4.0 that, Keppler noted, is heavily supported by additive capabilities.
“Additive creates value by steering the interaction between material and energy source. We look to digital materials, in which we define properties point by point: this is a dense point, this is a porous point. It’s a huge value of the technology, and hardly anyone today understands the potential,” he said.
“We have to understand the potential of what is not possible yet today. Different structures and laser power create far different properties that you can do in each voxel. Not today, but this will change how products are produced. We are at the beginning of this journey.”
Voxel-level capabilities are enabling unique part qualities, such as in the shin guards Keppler referenced as an example, that provide appropriate levels of support and strength exactly where needed.
Next year will mark three decades of operations, offering EOS a unique perspective on this still-nascent industry. It’s taken 25 years, Keppler noted, to prove that additive manufacturing truly has a place at a show like IMTS, and we’re still early in that journey.
EOS understands the value of the journey, and the process of scaling up sustainably. It took 20 years for the company to install its first thousand systems, and five years for its second thousand; in the last 2.5 years, 1,500 systems were installed on that accelerating curve. Now with about 3,500 systems installed worldwide, EOS is presently “prepared to deliver 2-3,000 systems per year.” They currently range about 500-700 systems, so this growth represents a notable ramping up as the team is looking at industry projections that see a near future of “large manufacturing projects requiring thousands of systems.”
While we spoke of systems, I asked about the newest from EOS, unveiled at the show. The M300-4 is a four-laser metal system designed to address several challenges. As Keppler laid them out, these include:
Have to achieve part quality equal to or better than conventional manufacturing
Reduce cost per part for production
Integration of additive manufacturing / 3D printing into conventional manufacturing sites, from both a part flow and a data point of view
The M300-4 is a four-laser system with a full field overlap; it can also operate with two lasers or, in the future, with eight lasers. A robot can help to automate unpacking, as well, Keppler noted among the platform capabilities; integrating into operations also allows for remote status, servicing, and support. These are all, he said, elements to increase productivity, to leverage Industry 4.0 with integrating the IT backbone and automation.
“We have a similar setup with the P500, introduced last formnext, to industrialize and automate manufacturing processes,” he continued. “We are always maintaining quality of part. This is for us a very important topic to focus on, for aerospace, for medical, for going forward.”
With so much additive competition present at IMTS, I asked Keppler how he felt about the growing field. He began with an apt comparison.
“I love sports. In sports, you push yourself, or you have someone pushing. It’s the same with industry. There is pushing to explore. Competition is great. It’s good for all these product announcements to be happening at IMTS,” he said.
EOS also has a unique vantage point as such a long-established company that has been innovating in additive for decades: the company developed core technologies for metal 3D printing that have been licensed to other businesses. For 10 years, this IP has been in use at EOS and at competitive companies working in metal.
“They all use our IP. The good thing is they pay a license fee, but it also shows how we think and act,” Keppler said, as such moves are indicative of company culture.
“We will never be able to push this industry forward alone. This all is part of our DNA. We are family owned and have a big focus on company culture, on sustainability. The Langer family want to build for the future, to build this legacy. It is changing the world in the end, medical implants are changing lives, aerospace engines are reducing CO2 emissions, lightweighting cars is reducing the carbon footprint. This is the purpose of EOS, helping the world, not just our shareholders.”
For Keppler, and for EOS, this is a major point of differentiation: this spirit of larger change, not the bottom line. Business is important, of course, but the implications of that business are wider reaching than a niche technology or glowing earnings report.
Keppler’s final words as we closed our conversation underscored that bigger picture as 3D printing continues to take its place in this heralded next Industrial Revolution set to build the future.
“Industry 4.0, with the help of 3D printing, can revolutionize manufacturing, how the world is making parts. This is a huge impact to society, also to governments, to countries. You can produce and design anywhere and optimize shipping, lower the carbon footprint,” Keppler told me.
“This is a huge opportunity to leverage. We have to be mindful, we have to educate young people to these uses, and to leverage them.”