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Bart Kooijmans saw every step of the development in Additive Manufacturing. Building a product layer by layer from the computer. In the late 1990s, 3D printing still sounded like science fiction; now it's a common technology, says Bart Kooijmans, Program Manager of Precision Technologies at Mikrocentrum. "It's showing up in industrial end products and more and more people have a 3D printer at home."
Kooijmans was one of the pioneers of the introduction of 3D technology into the industry. As a researcher in Rapid Prototyping at TNO Industrie en Techniek, he was allowed to buy the first 3D printers from around the world in the late 1990s to explore what the technology could bring to the Dutch industry. "We recognized even then that this would be a disruptive technology," he says.
At TNO, Kooijmans and his colleagues brought the first printers to the Netherlands. Like the Stratasys machine from America, the Kira 3D printer from Japan, and the Actua wax printer. An increasingly broad spectrum of technologies and materials emerged. From the Rapid Prototyping demo department set up, especially for this purpose, the applicability to the Dutch industry was tested.
"We looked together with a company at how it could benefit from it," says Kooijmans. "What was missing at the time was demand. Nobody knew about this technique yet." A competitive advantage turned out to be the shorter design time. "In no time at all, you could be holding the first prototype."
In ten years, the initiatives grew into European-subsidized projects on which research institutes from several countries worked together. "That's how we explored the whole scope," he says.
We did this in the open industrial domain, says Kooijmans, "But it also happened as 'best-kept-secret' behind the closed doors of major stakeholders such as automotive, aerospace and OEMs, who saw in this an opportunity to make major strides in their competitive edge."
Developments within 3D printing gained tremendous momentum, Kooijmans continues. "With stimulus money, regions and international institutes pitched in as centers of development." As an example, Kooijmans mentions the Brainport region, with its own gathering place for the entire chain at Brainport Industrie Campus (BIC). "But there are also development centers in Twente, Amsterdam, and Rotterdam. And in Belgium, Flam3D is a leading umbrella initiative."
The industry has fully developed 3D printing into a production technology with which you can make high-quality products, according to Kooijmans. For the high-tech manufacturing industry, 3D printing with metal offers yet another whole new area of application. "As well as printing with high-tech plastics or biomaterials does”, Kooijmans adds. “We are no longer talking about 3D printing, but about true additive manufacturing of end products. This also involves a whole lot of certification. You have to be able to make a product that you can safely screw into an airplane. Or take a tooth made of technical ceramics: you can't just stick that in a mouth."
In 2011, Kooijmans made the move to Mikrocentrum, an independent knowledge and networking organization for the high-tech and manufacturing industry. In addition to courses, Kooijmans started the trade show for 3D printing, RapidPro, there. "The technology deserved its own trade fair and congress," he says. The congress became an annual event. This year it is part of the 3D Production Days taking place this week at the Klokgebouw in Eindhoven.
Fried Vancrean, CEO of Materialise, will open the Production Days. Kooijmans: "Materialise is really a frontrunner within 3D printing. They built the factory of the future years ago. They were the first to set up a next-day service: you send a file and the next day you have it printed out in plastic. Today the company is Nasdaq-listed and has sales of 200 million. The technology scales up so quickly to final production in cars or medical applications it shows what is possible."
In addition to Rapid Pro, the 3D Production Days will include conferences on Model-Based Definition and Virtual (R)evolution. Those events are also part of 3D Delta Week.