This study on 3D-printing value chains (falling under the category of Advanced Manufacturing technologies) is one of the European Commission's actions to boost the industrial deployment of Key Enabling Technologies (KETs) in Europe.
The report uses a regional perspective to analyse missing Additive Manufacturing (AM or 3D-printing) capabilities in Europe. AM is still at an early stage in most application areas, and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in particular face barriers to take up this expensive and differentiating technology, developments in which remain steered by large companies and Research and Technology Organisations (RTOs).
The key emerging application areas relevant to European industry that were analysed in-depth in this study range from 3D-printed car interior components, machine and airline parts, manufacturing moulds, implants and surgical planning tools, to printed food, textiles, home decoration products and houses. Overall, none of the value chains analysed in the context of the study was disrupted yet: AM is still at an early stage in most application areas.
Although European regions face strong competition from Israel, the United States and Japan in plastic AM and hybrid manufacturing, as well as from China in emerging areas such as bioprinting, they are world leaders in areas like metal AM, selective laser melting or biomedical AM research. Nevertheless, some value chain segments are missing or could be strengthened in Europe, such as high-end metal powders or food printing.
Barriers to AM deployment often relate to the lack of knowledge in the form of skills, training and knowledge to standardize AM materials and processes. Technical limitations, but also the cost of AM (materials, printers, etc.), the lack of awareness among potential user communities, difficulties in overcoming traditional ways of manufacturing and cultural barriers are also recurrent problems. Most of the barriers relate to close-to-market needs and highlight the need for improved technology demonstration in Europe.
Opportunities and policy implications
European capabilities in the area of 3D-printing remain fragmented. AM capabilities are mainly concentrated in specific Western European regions. Only a limited number of 3D-printer manufacturers and specialized service providers could be identified in Eastern European regions. However, the study identified cross-regional and cross-value chain collaboration opportunities that would benefit current close-to-market and future 3D-printing applications. These relate to the inbalance between Western and Eastern European regions, the need for critical mass and knowledge flows, as well as the need for connecting AM supply and demand.
Other policy implications that were put forward were fostering the development of adapted curricula, awareness raising, certification efforts (e.g. for materials) and R&D support.
The cross-regional demonstration and collaborative projects that were identified along and across value chains will feed into the Commission's actions to support the work of the Smart Specialisation Platform on Industrial Modernisation.
Overview of report (slide presentation) (PDF, 2MB)
Author: IDEA Consult in consortium with VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland Ltd, AIT Austrian Institute of Technology and CECIMO.
Report prepared for the European Commission, Directorate-General for Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs and commissioned by the Executive Agency for SMEs (EASME) in the framework of the Work Programme 2014 of the EU Programme for the Competitiveness of enterprises and SMEs (COSME).