3D-printing-innovator Materialise captures Factory of the Future Award

Since the fifth edition of the Factory of the Future Awards last month there are ten more companies with a Factory of the Future title, the award granted by Sirris and Agoria to companies that best succeed in reconciling the technologies of the future with work tailored to people and the environment. One of the winners is 3D-printing-pionier Materialise.

One of the key objectives of Sirris and Agoria is to to enhance the contributions of the technological industry to a prosperous and sustainable society. Together with various partners Sirris and Agoria support manufacturing companies to achieve this, for example through the ‘Factory of the Future’ project, in which an award is granted each year to the best students of the class.

Factories of the Future invest in digitisation, smart processes and products and in global production, while also thoughtfully dealing with energy and materials and paying attention to involvement, creativity and autonomy of their employees.

The ten winning companies who were presented a Factory of the Future award this year by Flemish Prime Minister Geert Bourgeois are BMT Aerospace, Bosch, Colruyt Group Fine Food, Duracell, Janssen, Lavetan, Mirion Technologies, Niko Group, Materialise and Rf-Technologies.

Innovative 3D applications

Materialise is a pioneer in the development of 3D printing software and also provides 3D printing services to companies from various industries, including healthcare, automotive, aerospace, design and consumer goods. It helps them develop innovative 3D print applications. The company is based in Leuven, has 24 offices in 18 countries and also has production sites in the Czech Republic and the US.

In 2008, Belgian production was split into an industrial and a medical unit, with medical production being the lead plant for the Materialise group. Industrial production at the Leuven site has been in full transformation since 2004 to produce not only prototypes but also end products, albeit in small series.

Over the years Materialise has done a lot of research to find the most optimal parameters to produce efficiently with an ever higher quality of 3D printed objects. 3D printing is inherently a digital process and this technology can be integrated in a larger manufacturing story, where follow-up of the entire production is possible, IoT to do data analysis and AI to learn faster how the process can be further optimised.

Cross-fertilisation via co-creation processes

Through co-creation processes, several of which run simultaneously, Materialise can combine its expertise and competences with those of its project partners, in order to develop new applications. Together with a partner, Materialise developed a tool for the mass customisation of spectacles: these can be custom-made and produced on demand using a fully digitised process, whereby a 3D image is generated on the basis of a facial scan. It automatically creates a 3D design for a pair of glasses, which is then printed and finished in 3D. Other innovations developed this way include liners for ski boots, soles for sports shoes and drilling jigs for the medical industry. This how Materialise can offer added value within the world of both parties, with 3D printing or with innovative business models.

By introducing new applications (including, for example, setting up production for flying parts in the aircraft industry) and expanding the materials portfolio, the company wants its Belgian production to increasingly function as a pilot plant. Once production leaves the pilot phase, we will see if that production can be transferred to the foreign branches, or whether the production can set up in-house at the customers who need it.

Wondering what a Factory of the Future looks like on the inside? From 21 March to 9 June Agoria will again organise a Factory of the Future Roadshow, which will visit 19 of the winners. This roadshow is your chance to see how Factory of the Future winners operate, to connect with them and test your own challenges against their experience. More information is available in our agenda.