EOS is no new kid on the block in the world of additive manufacturing and industrial 3D printing. It is, in fact, one of the most recognizable and reputable names in the industry. Syndicated Pulse is honored to feature EOS as part of its voice of the industry interview program and thanks to Mr. Nikolai Zaepernick, who agreed to share his views on the state of the additive manufacturing industry as well as highlight the opportunities that lie ahead for vendors and EOS in this space.
Nikolai Zaepernick joined EOS in early 2011 and is the Head of Strategy and Business Development. Prior to joining EOS, he worked for Siemens AG, in various functions, for more than ten years. He is a mechanical engineer and holds an MBA degree.
Syndicated Pulse (SP): Can you share with our readers a brief insight into EOS’s history and the vision for its formation?
EOS: The story dates back to 1988 when Dr Hans J. Langer, then and now, CEO and founder of EOS, who worked for a company called General Scanning, a name most recognizable in making scanning systems for lasers then. At that time, he saw the use of lasers for layer-by-layer manufacturing and proposed to the General Scanning board that the company invest into the layer manufacturing world under the name EOS (Electro Optical Systems). The board declined his proposal because of potential patent issues and Dr Langer left General Scanning to pursue the EOS dream on his own with some reassurance and support from an angel investor. To be considered a serious contender in the emerging market, EOS needed a customer, and after some enquiries Dr Langer found a sizeable interest from BMW, which was quite interested in early rapid prototyping (RP) technologies and more importantly, their needs were unmet by existing RP manufacturers then. Dr Langer proposed to develop and build a machine to match their exact specification and needed 50% of the total cost up front. BMW took a leap of faith as it was a risky proposal from a cost perspective and it was unusual for them to buy a machine that only existed as a list of specifications.
Dr Langer delivered the first machine within a year as per their specification and EOS was set for astonishing growth over the next three years, selling some 20 systems to BMW and its supply chain. EOS had its own share of problems in the following years through patent battles between them and 3D Systems, in the USA, which was taking note of the rapid sales of stereolithography machines. That said, by 1994 EOS had expanded into laser sintering, one of the areas it is most closely associated with today, and it became the only company selling both laser sintering and stereolithography systems worldwide. Since then, there has been no looking back as the company continuously evolved from bespoke stereolithography systems through to laser sintering systems and Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS) whilst moving applications from prototyping to series production. Please also note that once the patent dispute was settled with 3D Systems, EOS decided to move from offering two AM technologies (Stereolithography and Laser Sintering) to focus exclusively on Laser-Sintering, which is the key technology EOS is offering today for both plastic and metal. I can go on but I think this provides a detailed overview of our history.
SP: EOS is one of the leaders in the industrial 3D printers (Additive Manufacturing) market. That said, what do you consider as the growing/emerging opportunities in this space?
EOS: We can only speak for the industrial 3D printing market EOS is operating in with its B2B solutions. What we clearly see over the last few years is that what started as a Rapid Prototyping technology in the early years is developing into a true manufacturing technology for serial applications. We see the most promising developments in the aerospace and medical industry. Big OEM’s perceive Additive Manufacturing (AM) as a game changer that enables completely new applications. At the same time, in a number of industries – such as automotive or consumer goods – the technology helps them to achieve their existing company goals and enables completely new strategic concepts and business models for the future.
SP: In your opinion, what are some of the key technology trends that are shaping the industry?
EOS: From a close dialogue with our customers we can derive key trends which will shape the further development of our technology. Based on AM, we help them to solve existing challenges or even support them to develop completely new applications that weren’t possible before. Particularly in serial application environments we see some key trends and EOS is addressing them based on an R&D approach that focuses on innovation with quality. In particular, EOS is continuously working on the following topics:
- Enlarged building volumes and continuously improving laser power
- A growing variety of materials that can be processed with our AM technology
- Process automation tools
- Growing modular setup of systems
- In-process monitoring that is key for a quality assurance adjusted to serial manufacturing needs
- With AM Consulting we help our customers to identify the right applications for AM that can create a true value add for their business
- In order to speed up AM technology acceptance at our customers we often support them in their AM quality management/validation processes
SP: Given these technology trends, how does EOS approach technology innovation and product development within the company?
EOS: Listening to the customer closely is essential. So innovation not just develops at EOS itself but also in close cooperation with our customers and partners. Pilot phases with lead customers prior to the broader market launch help us to further improve technology solutions.
SP: The 3D printing market has been witnessing a continued consolidation trend over the past few years. What causes would you attribute to this industry-shaping trend?
EOS: Market consolidation is not a trend that is particularly affecting the 3D printing market but rather a phenomenon we can observe in all emerging markets. In the 3D printing market in particular, one of the reasons for consolidation is certainly the fact that a market hype initially driven by inflated expectations now gradually leads into a phase of more realistic expectations. This, as a result, also shapes – and sometimes shifts – market demand.
But this does not affect every single market actor. EOS, for example, is a financially very sound company, as such is growing organically and builds its business – among others – also based on partnerships with other leaders in their respective field. The recently announced cooperation with GFMS is a perfect example for this approach and builds on jointly developing solutions for the mold and die sector that combine both subtractive (GFMS) and additive (EOS) technologies.
Apart from market consolidation, we’ll also see new players emerging in the 3D Printing industry,
SP: What are some of the key changes that EOS has witnessed over the past 12 months? How has the company changed to reflect this evolving marketplace?
EOS: With the technology maturation into manufacturing we have witnessed quite a development over the past 12 month. To reflect this we as a company have introduced changes within our company to adjust to this and on-boarded quite a number of new colleagues. To give you an example: per beginning of May 2015 we have around 650 employees worldwide which grew from around 540 employees last fiscal year and around 500 the year before.
Over the last few years, we particularly see a shift in the use of the AM technology. What once started as a technology that predominantly fueled the needs of rapid prototyping has developed into a technology for part manufacturing. The needs of the later customer group is a different one. As a result, from a technology perspective we are constantly adjusting to this as well. .
SP: What would you like your customers/clients to know about EOS’s product offerings? Do you also offer services?
EOS: Our product offerings are addressing our customer’s current challenges to innovate and differentiate beyond conventional manufacturing. With every new system we introduce to the market we offer a more automated, more modular, more fitted to manufacturing solutions.
Applications and new materials will drive AM business in the coming years. EOS is committed to supporting customers in identifying the right applications for AM, in integrating AM into existing manufacturing environments.
Service offerings: EOS offers the strongest technical services in the AM industry, also confirmed by our yearly customer satisfaction surveys.
Besides this, EOS offers the strongest global presence of their service organization with the industry-wide most developed support structures (Hotline, 2nd and 3rd level support, spare part logistics, and internal trainings). This all is being further developed on a continuous basis.
EOS is constantly expanding its already market leading know how transfer concept, which include: modular training offerings for specific target groups; AM Consulting to optimize technology learning curves at the customer and subsequent time-to-market; application expertise for leading industries that are starting to implement our technology.
EOS also accompanies and supports customers with the setup of their own AM quality management by offering validation support services and special maintenance services.
Our company will also continue to expand its global footprint year on year to serve our customers as close as possible. And as stated before already, we start cooperating with traditional manufacturing technologies to meet the growing requirements that occur from introducing our additive technologies into existing manufacturing environments.
SP: In terms of markets and demographics, where are you finding the most up take for your printers? What markets do you consider as key for both present and future growth?
EOS: Historically, our technology has seen the biggest uptake first in Germany and across Europe. And Europe continues to grow in terms of installed base.
What we witness over the last few years it that the US market is picking up steam at an amazing pace when it comes to the adoption of AM technologies. We see a lot of – and growing – interest here. Particularly since a big player like GE expressed its investment plans into the technology.
EOS is also operating in Asia, and particularly in China. Again we see a continued market interest and growth here.
At the end of the day, the pace of technology adoption also highly depends on cultural habits towards innovation. There are some countries that pick up new technologies very quickly, others take more time before the give it a try. The same applies for our target industries. Currently, the key industries for our technologies are certainly aerospace, medical, but as well automotive and consumer goods.
SP: What are the products that you have introduced recently? Can you share some insights as far as future product announcements?
EOS: You can find all of our latest announcements on our website. Among them are two new systems: EOS P 396 and EOS M 290.
One of the major market launches was certainly the manufacturing system for Direct Metal Laser Sintering EOS M 400.
We cannot go into more details about future product announcements. What we can say is that we will see some major announcements towards the end of the year, including a small metal system and further in-process quality assurance tools.
SP: Many 3D printing patents have either expired or are expiring soon. In your opinion, does this bode well for the industry?
EOS: Again, we can only speak for EOS here. Our company has a strong patent portfolio with more than 650 active patents in nearly 100 patent families. In general we feel that expiring patents will not have a significant impact on our industry. Speaking for EOS, our philosophy has always been to license our patents. As such we do not expect massive changes within the technology landscape.
Expiring patents also open up the market for new players. Our industry needs a competitive environment to develop this market further which offers a lot of opportunities for all of us.
SP: Who would you consider as key competitors, and how are you trying to differentiate yourselves from them?
EOS: Thank you for your understanding that we won’t talk about our competitors here.
What we always have to bear in mind is that there is not “THE” 3D printing technology. Instead, there are quite a number of AM processes available on the market; they work based on different materials (plastic and/or metal), different material properties (powder vs. different resins); the process itself works with different energy sources etc. Competitors also differ depending on regions.
In general, achievable part quality is one major differentiating factor for customers. With our AM process we offer a high-end quality and innovation technology designed for serial manufacturing applications. And market feedback identifies EOS as the technology and quality leader in powder-based Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS) and a leading provider of powder-based polymer process.
SP: What have been your biggest challenges so far and how have you realigned your strategies to overcome them?
EOS: Relatively low market education in some job functions and industries is a constant challenge for an industry as relatively young as ours. Other challenges we face frequently result from inflated expectations on what the technology can deliver already today and in the future. If we take into account that it has only been introduced about 25-30 years ago it is developing very quickly anyway.
Having said this inflated expectations are also based on the assumption that this technology will replace all and every conventional manufacturing concepts we see today – for all industries and all applications, which is not true.
What is true is that Additive Manufacturing will replace quite a number of conventional manufacturing approaches. But at the end of the day it is still a niche technology – yet a quickly expanding one. On the other hand, in the future we will also see concepts that will integrate both additive and conventional technologies for some applications.
To sum up: The Additive Manufacturing process we offer definitely changes the way companies design and manufacture their products. It enables applications and alternative approaches to conventional manufacturing solutions in some cases. In other cases it can even enable applications that weren’t possible before. It is a design-driven manufacturing process (as opposed to a manufacturing-driven, conventional production) which offers freedom of design.
SP: Would you highlight any specific partnership or alliance made in the past year? What can we expect on this front from EOS going forward?
EOS: EOS will continue to expand its partner network but we cannot yet disclose more details. For our partnerships with others, we distinguish between technology and customer partnerships
EOS works very closely with big OEM customers who have been introducing AM to their business and started to build new applications and business models around this. GE Aviation is certainly one of the main drivers among them.
With plasmo EOS e.g. is currently working on a key topic for AM in serial production – which is in-process monitoring. We’ll be able to give you more details on this towards the end of this year.
We just recently announced a strategic partnership with GF Machining Solutions. Combining both companies innovative technology solutions, the partnership will focus on the mold and die market. The cooperation allows EOS to increase the value for customers by integrating conventional and additive technologies. This is a large step towards seamless production and we join forces with a strong and experienced partner.
SP: What do you think of the market conditions in 2014? How about 2015?
EOS: We can only speak for EOS. We experienced very good market conditions last year – the market feedback was very promising and demand exceeded our expectations. And this continues into 2015 as well.
The general hype around 3D printing that started in late 2013 helped the entire industry to gain broader awareness for this new technology. Industrial 3D Printing – like EOS offers it – has found its way into serial applications.
SP: How do you envisage the future of the 3D printing market say in the next 5 years? As a conclusion, what role can we expect EOS to play in shaping the future of the market or what does the future hold for your company more specifically?
EOS: We see a bright future ahead as Additive Manufacturing offered by EOS is currently taking up more and more pace. EOS will continue to offer worldwide technology and quality leading AM solutions. The company will further expand its leadership role in metal. We will see an accelerating adoption of AM particularly in aerospace and medical. As market expectations will become more realistic with view to AM after the hype we experienced recently we will see other industries developing sustainable solutions based on this technology.