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January 22, 2014

EOS GmbH, based deep in the forests of southern Germany, is one of the most recognisable names in the AM and 3D printing world. Part of this recognition stems from the breadth of applications that the company’s laser sintering technologies are used for — from toys and games through medical, tooling, automotive and aerospace components. In a bid to get the low-down on some exciting developments we had been tipped off about, and to get the whole of the EOS story directly from founder and CEO Dr. Hans J. Langer, TCT took a trip to Munich…

Mittel of the road?

The Germans have a word — Mittelstand — that epitomises many of the companies you’re likely to read about in TCT. The exact translation into English is quite vague and refers to the ‘middle estate’, a throwback from the days of feudal systems and wealthy landowners. What the term really means though is a way of thinking and a way of working that has become lauded as the source of Germany’s persistent economic superiority within Europe, even through the lean years of the financial crisis, credit crunch, recession and currency woes that have beset their continental brethren.

Mittelstand companies are generally small (under 500 employees), focussed on high-tech and high-value manufacturing and engineering applications and are dotted across the German landscape, often in rural locations. Mittelstand companies account for around 70% of the country’s employment and have been hailed a source of innovation and economic resilience. They usually cluster around large enterprises but — importantly — are never reliant on supplying a single customer, instead spreading risk throughout their supply chains and customer bases.

The companies tend to be conservative in their practices, shying away from undue risk and concentrating on stability rather than growth, with emphasis on passing the business on to the next generation in good order (historically Mittelstand companies are family owned) — something that a lot of the Western economy could benefit from studying.

With all that said, business always involves an element of risk and the greatest businessmen are the ones that have taken risks that others would scoff at, something that EOS’s founder and CEO Dr Hans J. Langer appreciates:

“Back in 1988 I was working for a company called General Scanning, a company that at the time had a quasi-monopoly on scanning systems for lasers — the mirrors and actuators that control the position of the laser beam. I had started General Scanning’s European operations and was on the strategy board that was responsible for the direction of the company on the whole. The idea at the time was for the company to move from the components business into very specific areas of system businesses. We knew the laser applications market very well as nearly everyone using lasers at the time used General Scanning systems or components.

“Because of the ubiquity of the company’s products we could see new applications arising very early on in different universities and start-up companies around the world. One of the developments we saw was the use of lasers not for scanning or cutting or milling, but for layer-by-layer manufacturing; in Europe, the USA and Japan there were projects that all used parts from General Scanning. At this time I proposed to the General Scanning board that the company invest into the layer manufacturing world under the name EOS (Electro Optical Systems) as it seemed to be a logical progression in moving the company from components to systems.”

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January 22, 2014

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