Additive manufacturing: a common European strategy is needed


stratasys Objet1000Plus_Closed_V03_MQAs communicated by Cecimo (European Association of the Machine Tool Industries), high-level representatives from companies, EU institutions, think tanks and other stakeholders of the machine tools sector were present at the recent Additive Manufacturing (AM) and 3D Printing European Conference 2016, held at the European Parliament. They discussed the creation of a European strategy for additive manufacturing to support the steady, long-lasting and consistent development of this technology in Europe. The five members of the European Parliament, who participated at the event, confirmed that the additive manufacturing represent an important opportunity for the growth of manufacturing in Europe, and political support should be consistently provided both at European and national level. From the European Commission, Peter Dröll, Director for Key Enabling Technologies DG Research and Innovation, and Ronan Burgess, Head of the Photonics unit of DG Connect, took the floor. They underlined the continued need for a unified approach at European level to consistently develop advanced technologies and support the growth of the European industry. They also highlighted the importance of fostering digital industrial innovation in Europe. From the industry, speakers from Siemens, Stratasys, SLM Solutions, Ultimaker, Materialise, 3D Italy and some delegates of CrowdforAfrica, a 3D printing project for the development cooperation in Africa, underlined that AM offers transformative potentials and freedom from some production restrictions. It represents a disruptive technology that can have a positive impact on materials and energy saving, in addition to reducing supply chain cost and enhancing education and skills. During the debate session, the panellists discussed the different topics to be included in a European AM strategy: from research to education, from IPR protection to SME development, from standardization to certification. It becomes obvious that the current lack of coordination and multiannual planned intervention is diluting public and private investments, jeopardizing a pan-European AM-related exchange of knowledge, and exposing European AM entrepreneurs and end-users to international competitors. An overall strategy specific for AM should include supporting access to finance, research and innovations, standardization and certification. To achieve these goals, dialogue between industrial stakeholders is fundamental. The European strategy for AM should go beyond research funding to accelerate the market uptake of AM, including the development of standards, access to finance, especially for SMEs, awareness raising, skills development, IPR protection, liability regulations as well as qualification and certification procedures. Specifically, SMEs should have the opportunity to access a database of AM/3DP service providers at European level, which could also prove useful to promote those service companies developing in the AM field. The adoption of standards will be especially important to build market confidence and to support the sustainable development of AM technologies. Education and skills appear also to be fundamental to AM market uptake. Materials, their availability and development, should also be included in the strategy because of their important role in technological development. In that area, the strategy should focus on clear and specific regulations on the certification of materials. The panellists also debated on the ICT challenges faced by the European manufacturing sector. Advanced technologies allow the development of different and innovative supply chains, based on the moving of files and not only of materials, goods and people. Therefore, a strong ICT network is required in each of the 28 European Member States to allow the consistent development of AM technologies.