Holland is a small, great country. The Dutch seem to have a unique ability to control chaos, combining the rigors of Northern Europe with the more relaxed living of Southern European nations while remaining open to Eastern European and Middle Eastern cultures as well. Not to mention that, throughout history, the Dutch have connected the world through commerce, from India to North and South America, and continue to do so today with 3D printing and ideas. Holland is like a 3D printing wonderland: it’s not a matter of finding interesting 3D printing companies but selecting the ones to visit in a limited time. That’s why the best place to start is where there is a higher concentration of them, at the Brainport Industries Campus (BIC) in Eindhoven.
Eindhoven is a lovely Southern Dutch city, with a post-industrialist creative feel to it. This is where Philips and its production facilities were originally based. Now the ex-Philips area is dedicated to startups and is developing rapidly, with the original Brainport Eindhoven structure, where pioneering AM companies such as Additive Industries opened their original facility, driving growth. Brainport was established so suppliers could join forces to strengthen the professional character and competitive position of the high-tech supply chain. The hub has been providing a fertile ground for collaborative projects related to technology, markets, and people. It’s basically an environment that generates a flow of knowledge, workers and experts, enabling suppliers to increase their output and grow into market leaders. The next step in Brainport’s growth was the opening of the 100,000-square-meter Brainport Industries Campus, and its Factory of the Future, in 2019.
Inside the Brainport Industries Campus
Some of the Brainport Industries Campus suppliers are large companies that have taken a direct interest in 3D printing, such as Siemens and Hexagon. Others are large companies taking an indirect interest in AM, such as the Dutch semiconductor giant ASML (an acronym for Advanced Semiconductor Materials Lithography). Many more are growing companies that are very much rooted in 3D printing. From Luxexcel, the Dutch-Belgian company specializing in material jetting of ophthalmic lenses (that is in the process of moving its primary production facility to automation specialist AM Flow, color 3D printing service provider Marketiger, DfAM design studio and service Additive Center, and metal AM service provider K3D, and several universities, among others.
All these companies are residents of the BIC, the Brainport Industries Campus, the giant new facility located about 15 minutes from the original one (near the Eindhoven airport), which we had the opportunity to visit, invited by AM Flow and BIC management.
The new facility provides an ideal ecosystem for innovation, and it’s the first location where high-tech suppliers not only produce but also innovate together, using shared knowledge and shared valuable facilities such as flexible production areas, warehouses and offices. Not only is the BIC easy to reach, but it is also very open and welcoming to visitors. Once you get past the initial shock from the facility’s sheer size and get to the front entrance, you can simply walk in and find what you are looking for. Within its green surroundings, the high-tech buildings offer a pleasant working climate with plenty of light and clean air. The constant temperature increases productivity, while production processes involving sensitive components and technologies also benefit from the climate.
From our point of view, the most interesting and unique company to see at BIC is AM Flow, the only company specifically addressing a key limitation in the ability to scale AM for production: the manual labor costs required in phases of the production workflow beyond the AM process itself, which are actually higher than for traditional manufacturing. That’s because parts produced by formative processes can be standardized while AM parts can be infinitely varied. AM Flow’s long-term vision started with a… vision, the AM-VISION, which is the hardware system used to see and recognize parts.
What the AM Vision does is take parts from a batch and “singularize” them, recognizing each part’s unique geometry out of infinite possible geometries. Once the parts have been identified, they are, again, placed in batches: they can be grouped by finishing or color, or by specific part types, and ultimately sorted through the AM-SORT. This, working in combination with the AM-VISION, forms a complete 3D printing sorting station, ensuring that the identified objects are directed to the correct next process step, enabling the switch from one-piece to batch processes.
The AM-SORT is custom-built to fit seamlessly in the existing production workflow. Seeing (and using) all these systems in person is necessary to understand how much they can simplify and accelerate these key workflow operations.
Another interesting facility to see in person is Marketiger’s, the only specialized full-color 3D printing service provider in the world today, with multiple Mimaki 3DUJ-553 machines working on different projects. These are systems that can create parts using as many as 10 million colors. The service is now 3D printing as many as 1.000 models per day, for high-quality high volume full-color 3D printing capabilities.
Because not every 3D model is instantly suitable for full-color 3D printing the Marketiger team offers services to take concepts from idea to printable full-color 3D model. As soon as the files are ready for printing, they are positioned in the machines for pre-processing. The company then works with innovative partners to offer different post-processing solutions. The engineers can control the output model’s desired result in terms of detail, surface finish, color calibration or strength.
Back in Eindhoven
According to Ruben Fokkema, Ecosystem and Business Developer of the BIC, “Eindhoven has the highest concentration in Holland of 3D printing companies, one of the highest in the world.” Shapeways, one of the largest and first online 3D printing service providers in the world, began and is still based here. It was the Shapeways experience that helped the AM Flow founders envision their automation concept.
Eindhoven has the highest concentration in Holland of 3D printing companies, one of the highest in the world.
One of the most interesting facilities to see is Additive Industries, another company that was founded with the goal of automating the AM process, focusing on metal AM part production. One of the Additive Industries machines is also present at the Brainport Industries Campus, used by the metal AM service provider K3D. The facility was established in 2012 in the “Brainport Ecostructure”. Built on the high-tech systems, optics and electronics heritage of this region, founders Jonas Wintermans and Daan Kersten created a company committed to industrializing 3D printing using ‘open innovation’ principles to capitalize on proven technology.
A bridge to Amsterdam
One of the biggest 3D printed attractions in the world today is the metal 3D printed bridge created by MX3D and installed right in the center of Amsterdam’s crowded and characteristic Red Light district. It is such a popular attraction that it even has an address on most Map apps as the “MX3D Bridge”. Unlike the Canal House project, which was one of the first ambitious projects to bring 3D printing to the public, the MX3D bridge, not without many difficulties and some delays, is now being used. The Canal House by DUS Architects did spawn many other great ideas and concepts but it was never actually completed.
The MX3D Bridge is beautiful. Having followed almost every single step of this project from the very beginning what we really wanted to visit was the company that printed it, MX3D and meet its founder Gijs Van Der Velden. And so I did: I jumped on a ShareNow electric FIAT 500e and zoomed through Amsterdam’s center to the nearby industrial docks area, where MX3D is based. And I met with Gijs Van Der Velden, who is the charismatic (and very busy) figure who took WAAM technology from an artistic form of expression and made it into what is today: probably the largest WAAM metal AM service provider, hardware manufacturer and system integrator. This does not mean it is a huge company yet, but with 9 WAAM systems running and some of the parts that wrote the history of metal 3D printing in its lobby (see the metal 3D printed bikes below), right in its lobby, MX3D is now supplying machines and parts to some major companies in the maritime, automotive, construction and of course the arts&design world.
That was it for our visit to Amsterdam this time around, but many other great companies are based here, starting with Hubs (formerly 3D Hubs) the company that Bram de Zwart and Brian Garret founded to network every 3D printer in the world and has now been acquired to become a key asset for the large digital manufacturing services provider Proto Labs (which we visited in 2014). And Janne Kyttanen’s 3DTI, a company merging 3D printing and packaging technology to bridge the gap between 3D print customization and mono-product mass production. This one is definitely on the list for next time.
A taxi to Delft
One of the university labs at the BIC also hosts a large format composite machine from CEAD. Based in Delft, between Rotterdam and The Hague, CEAD is emerging as the Northern European leader, and one of the global technological leaders in large format additive manufacturing of composites via robotic extrusion. The company has been working with industry leaders like Siemens, Mitsubishi (MCPP), Comau, Belotti, as well as many leading universities. Its growth is now taking off and the Delft facility is about in the process of being completely overhauled to make space for larger offices and a larger production floor. We had met with the company’s founder, Lucas Janssen, at JEC 2022 and really wanted to take this opportunity to visit the facility in Delft.
Unfortunately, something rather incredible happened: there was a major train strike in Holland. Not just a minor protest: a train strike for the entire day from morning till night, something quite impactful in a country where many people – including myself – rely on a great train network to get around between cities. There are many socioeconomic reasons for this strike (which we won’t get into here) and Lucas confirmed that it is quite a rare event.
It was not easy but we still managed to organize the visit, catching a ride there with Lucas on his way back from a show in Hamburg and riding back to Eindhoven on an Uber car. And it was worth the trip. The facility is in the middle of restructuring but I got to see many of the large CEAD robots, controllers and extruders getting assembled and ready to ship out. And I also got to hear about some new (and massive) projects on the way.
For now, let’s just say that 3D printing is getting a lot bigger and these Dutch companies are at the forefront of it.