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Additively offers detailed information about additive manufacturing technologies in addition to its service bureau-matching service.
3D printing has never been more accessible in Europe and around the world, thanks to the growing choice of additive manufacturing service bureaux.
But how does a company make sure they select the very best service bureau for their company, industry, product and budget?
Enter Additively, a spin-out company from ETH Zürich, one of Europe's foremost engineering universities. The team of three includes co-founder and PhD student Matthias Baldinger, his friend and fellow co-founder Fabian Rahm who develops the technical aspects of the website and Professor Gideon Levy, Additively's scientific adviser and authority on additive manufacturing with some 25 years' experience. Baldinger spoke exclusively to TCT Magazine about this interesting new venture, which could change how businesses access 3D printing technology for prototyping and low production runs.
Finding the right service
"We've been doing research at ETH Zürich for a while now and we've been trying to find out how we can support companies [wishing] to use professional additive manufacturing," he explained, adding that while the interest in using additive manufacturing for prototyping or making complex geometries is there, many businesses face the issue of finding the right service provider who can bring their CAD files off the screen and onto a build plate.
Baldinger continued: "These challenges are faced by many companies and it's preventing the widespread of 3D printing in the professional world and this is exactly what we are trying to address with the platform."
He talked through the process of using Additively: "Basically, say you're an engineering company and you launch a new product and you don't really know what the demand is going to be. So, rather than making a mould and choosing injection moulding, why not make the first 100 parts for your product with additive manufacturing? So, you come to Additively and you post the parts you need to the platform by uploading your CAD file and specifying exactly what your part requirements are, so what you want to use it for, what material it needs to be made in. What Additively does is helps select the right 3D printing technology to meet these requirements.
"The next step is we have a network of around 250 service providers in Europe and we will collect offers for your part from the most suitable providers. So basically, you post the parts and we do all of the work in the background and you can log in again and see the different quotations from service providers and compare them. So you know your options and you can then direct the orders to parts."
Baldinger explained that each service provider is listed on Additively according to their industry specialisations, so requests from jewellery-makers will be sent to those service bureaux who are experienced at making jewellery, for example.
Additively's network of service providers is not a free-for-all. There are criteria that need to be met. To be listed, the organisation must offer their 3D printing services using large-scale 3D printing equipment, not desktop 3D printers. The Additively team started compiling their network on the back of earlier research on benchmark studies in the service provider market, which gave them a definitive list of appropriate service bureaux.
"How it works now is like TripAdvisor," Baldinger explained. "Service providers can create their own profiles and input information about their own services. The list is constantly growing and we review the profiles so most of the information you can find there is based on our own database where we've listed all the 3D printing machines and materials, so whenever a service provider has something not already on our list they can add it and we will review it and if it exists and is what they say it is, we will add it to the database.
"Because of this, we have quite a good picture of what is actually available in the marketplace. The whole thing is going to evolve over time."
Additively's service is free to use, but the company will earn money by levying a commission fee from each successful order. The team is targeting small and medium-sized companies in the manufacturing sector as many large-scale companies have the capacity to acquire the knowhow and the equipment if they wish to make a foray into additive manufacturing.
"Small and mid-sized companies don't [have that ability]," Baldinger said, "so for them, we want to provide the knowhow and to help them find the right service provider.
"For example, there is a company that is an engineering business and they build prototypes for their customers and what they did was they were thinking of redesigning some of the parts so they could easily produce them from the prototype. The prototype was a wheelchair and we helped them by looking at the CAD file of the prototype and found a company that could 3D print it."
So in addition to offering a service bureau-matching service, Additively hopes to be used by customers and prospective customers as a resource for understanding 3D printing.
"We're trying to put together a comprehensive overview of 3D printing, so like a learning environment where we explain all the different technologies and what you can do with it. So this is also something that's growing with information we are receiving from service providers. This could be an interesting resource for companies looking to use this service," Baldinger said.
The team is not aware of any other operation with an offering of this kind - particularly not one with such a navigable and professional web offering and what seems to be a sound business strategy. Additively is a young company with a team of just three, but it will be interesting to see how much it could grow in a short space of time.