Though a small nation, the Netherlands has made quite a significant impact on the additive manufacturing industry in recent years. Industrious and innovative companies, including professional 3D printing service Oceanz, got their start in the Netherlands and many startups and businesses are helping to cultivate a rich environment there for the advancement and adoption of additive manufacturing.
Based in Ede, a small city in the center of the Netherlands, Oceanz has become a reliable service bureau for professional applications since its founding and operates a versatile range of 3D printing technologies to serve its clients.
We recently spoke to Oceanz CEO Erik van der Garde about the company’s mission and how it fits into the broader additive manufacturing industry in the Netherlands.
“In general we offer business-to-business services,” he begins. “We don’t do a lot of business directly with consumers. Of course, when a consumer uploads a file on the platform they get the same treatment as a OEM client, but in general we market to and do business in the B2B market.
“In terms of clients, the main industries for us are manufacturing, medical devices and certain retail channels. Everybody likes to claim they have business in the automotive and aerospace industries, but in the Netherlands these volumes are rather small compared to certain other countries.”
Serving the Dutch market
Indeed, Oceanz has made headlines for its work in the medical sector. Notably, in 2016 it became the first 3D printing company to receive the ISO 13485 certificate for medical devices. In addition, it also works with clients in dental, orthopedics and MedTech. In the consumer goods sector, the company highlights the jewelry market, art & design, eyewear and fashion amongst its main areas. Finally, within the industrial sector, it serves clients in machine and parts, packaging, maritime, robotics and engineering, to name a few.
“We provide services to a lot of different industries,” van der Garde elaborates. “Of course, some industries are already embracing additive more than others, but in general we have quite a diverse group of customers. Like I said, automotive and aerospace are still rather small compared to the packaging industry, for instance, or the manufacturing industry.”
Looking at Oceanz’ website, you’ll notice how many 3D printing technologies and platforms it operates, including SLS, DLP, SLA, SLM, Colorjet, FDM and MJM. Van der Garde emphasizes that out of all these technologies, Oceanz’s core business is still largely focused on selective laser sintering (SLS).
“[SLS] is widely adopted in the Netherlands,” he explains. “In general, plastics are easier to print with compared to metals, but in the Netherlands we are now seeing a growing market for metals. Compared to our neighbours in Germany, where there is a big automotive and manufacturing market, the Netherlands is a bit slower in adopting metal AM, but we are starting to adopt these techniques. In the past, only the plastics were available through our services but in the last few years we also integrated metal.”
Big players in the game
“In general I think it’s good for the industry that some large companies are starting to think about how they can supply machines,” he elaborates. “It will be beneficial because there will be alternative technologies, materials and services. That being said, sometimes such companies create a lot of expectations in the market which cannot realistically be met yet. But overall, it’s good to shake up the supply chains and existing businesses to drive the technology forward.”
Looking to how else the AM market will be increasingly adopted, the Oceanz CEO adds: “I think every service company will shout from the rooftops that they want lower costs for the printer hardware and materials. As a service company, we’re more or less tied to the price of the printers, etc. Of course, the machines will also have to undergo other improvements such as faster speeds, better quality and increased repeatability.”
In terms of materials, van der Garde highlights that companies such as BASF and DSM showing interest in developing AM materials is a promising sign for the industry at large. “Materials suppliers are entering the market and they are seriously looking at AM as an alternative technique. They also want to facilitate our service with their materials. It will have an impact on the supply chain in general I think.”
Make it matter
Turning back to Oceanz, van der Garde says: “The mission statement at Oceanz is ‘Make it matter.’ I have this phrase written down on a big wall a few meters away from me. In the past, our customers had the mentality of ‘I want to print something,’ meaning that it was nice to have 3D printing, but it wasn’t essential.
“We tried with our mission statement not to see 3D printing as a goal but really as a way of achieving a goal. At this stage, our customers have gone beyond the ‘want to print’ stage and are approaching us with a ‘need to print’ mentality.”
He continues: “We try to do business with companies that are aiming to get their processes faster, cheaper or better, etc. But we also want to ensure we can deliver these results so we want to give them the best advice. If the best advice is 3D printing, this is my kind of customer, but if they are better suited for traditional manufacturing, so be it.”
In addition to its additive manufacturing service, Oceanz also operates an initiative in the Netherlands aimed at promoting AM education and training. The project, called Oceanz Academy aims to share knowledge about 3D printing between local industry, businesses and educational institutions.
“There is no education program in the Netherlands for learning AM,” van der Garde explains. “You can follow some courses for general techniques in 3D printing, but for providing services, there is no education. So we started our own program aimed at creating good operators, good technicians, etc. for our company or for elsewhere in the industry.”
“We also try to have an open relationship with the education system in the Netherlands,” he adds. “We exchange techniques, give presentations and try to set up some research initiatives. We are thinking a lot about 3D printing and the future of the technology and our service.
“Sometimes it’s fundamental research and sometimes it’s more practical training for operating a machine. Oceanz Academy covers a range of activities. We set up knowledge events, for example about reengineering models, where we bring partners of ours to give a presentation.”
“Knowledge sharing, I believe, is a good way to advance the AM business,” he emphasizes. “I have seen many classic reactions to this about the importance of keeping the company’s knowledge for itself instead of sharing it. I disagree. We have to share our knowledge to make the industry worthwhile and worth stepping into.”