Wilfried Vancraen, CEO of the Belgian corporation Materialise NV, began his success story around 25 years ago in Bremen when, as a young graduate, he became involved with BIBA, the Bremen Institute for Production and Logistics. It was here that he saw the first 3D printer in Europe. He was excited by the new possibilities it presented, and immediately recognised the technology's potential. And so, back in his home country of Belgium, he founded Materialise – a company that today is one of the leading providers of 3D printing services worldwide, with more than 1,300 employees and an annual turnover of €100 million.
A quarter of a century later, the story has come full circle, and Bremen has once again become a playground for innovation in 3D printing. And Vancraen back on the scene, attending the opening of the Materialise metal printing plant at the Bremen Innovation and Technology Centre (BITZ) in mid-2016. What makes the plant so remarkable is its ability to manufacture workpieces in titanium and aluminium, as well as prototypes of industrial production quality. Although metal printing is already commonly used in medicine – in the manufacturing of dental implants, for example – when it comes to the industrial sector, the technology is still in its infancy. But as it grows, so too does Materialise and its German subsidiary, Materialise GmbH.
BITZ is the incubator that has helped many technology companies to hatch their fledgling concepts. Materialise has rented three halls at its site next to the University of Bremen, which contain a total of four 3D metal printers: three for the aluminium alloy AlSi10Mg and one for the titanium alloy TiAl6V4. These alloys are frequently used in various industries – in aerospace, for example, or in automotive or mechanical engineering. Naturally, these industries also comprise Materialise GmbH’s target audience. "The technology can be employed by any company that manufactures complex components. Many of our clients are companies in the supply industry," says Dr Ingo Uckelmann, technical manager of 3D printing at Materialise. Like Vancraen, Uckelmann came across 3D printing as a student in Bremen and has been captivated by it ever since. "I’m fascinated by the freedom in what you can create," explains the engineer.
3D printing offers a certain freedom – namely, the ability to shape metal into any form you can imagine, free from the restrictions of conventional tools and processing technologies. Experts also refer to the process as additive manufacturing (AM), as the printed component is formed layer by layer, using a laser to smelt each layer out of fine metal powder. A machine on a carrier plate gradually applies layers of powder that are 25 to 50 micrometres thick, as thin as a strand of hair. The laser fuses the material only in places where the component needs to be formed, in a process known as laser sintering.
After many thousands of layers have been applied, the completed component can be removed from the powder. The machines in Bremen can produce components as large as a shoebox, with an edge length of up to 25cm. They can also be used to modify the insides of workpieces, creating objects such as hollow spheres in the course of a single operation. "Using traditional methods, this would be impossible without some very costly intermediate steps," explains Uckelmann. Companies such as Airbus have pricked up their ears at news of the technology’s capabilities, as it opens up entirely new worlds in the realm of lightweight construction. The aerospace corporation has already tested 3D-printed metal components in flight operations and is one of Materialise's clients.
3D printers are not set to replace CNC milling machines or lathes – rather, the technology is of interest to design engineers looking to consolidate several steps into a single process. At present, an aluminium sheet is poured, rolled, punched, perforated and riveted to other sheets to form a component; in future, the 3D printer will be able to instantly manufacture a complete assembly. This opens up new possibilities for more efficient production. Another application of the technology lies in the production of spare parts. As long as the blueprints still exist, new parts can be printed at relatively low cost. It's an exciting prospect – not least for classic car enthusiasts. Crucially for the industrial sector, Materialise is striving towards certification in accordance with quality standards such as ISO 9000 or EN9100. Once this is achieved, there is nothing to stand in the way of industrial series production.
When it comes to using 3D printing economically for production purposes, creativity is an absolute must. "People looking to produce the same things they’ve always done, but with 3D printing, are going the wrong way about it," Uckelmann advises. Companies should check to see if they can consolidate the process of creating a component that up to now has been produced in numerous individual steps. It's also particularly useful to bear 3D printing in mind when developing completely new products. "Designers have to learn to think in a new way," adds the technical manager. "This presents a challenge for the entire business process." Materialise thus offers courses and workshops that demonstrate the new possibilities and help others to get to grips with the technology, and its engineers are helping to optimise models in the fields of construction and design. The company sees itself as a complete service provider, from the very first points of contact in 3D printing to the delivery of turnkey systems or components in series production. Bremen plays a key role in additive manufacturing.
Whenever Materialise’s CEO speaks of Bremen, you can see his face light up with fond memories of the city. But Vancraen did not chose Bremen to be the site of the metal printing plant out of sheer sentimentality – there are plenty of other good reasons for doing so. "Bremen has a unique ecosystem for 3D printing that encompasses research, development and application. This gives us opportunities for collaboration and many new sources of inspiration. And the universities and colleges attract many young, well-educated individuals, which is fantastic," he explains.
Another good reason comes in the form of Marcus Joppe, the managing director of the group's German subsidiary Materialise GmbH. Like Vancraen and Uckelmann, Joppe came across 3D printing at BIBA as a student in the 90s, and just like them, he too has been continually fascinated by the technology’s potential. In 2001, he founded Marcam Engineering and began developing software for 3D printing – until 2011, that is, when Wilfried Vancraen came knocking and Marcam Engineering was bought out by market leader Materialise. Since then, Joppe has been managing director of Materialise GmbH, developing the Bremen site as a centre of excellence in 3D metal printing for its parent company. A total of 40 developers, researchers and producers are now employed at two locations in Bremen, on Mary-Somerville-Strasse and in BITZ itself. And the company doesn't cater exclusively to the industrial sector – private users can use the online platform i.materialise to get their own designs printed, such as glasses frames made out of titanium or aluminium. Individually styled, made in Bremen.
Materialise's web platform Materialise OnSite provides an online ordering service for prototype construction, with delivery in as little as 24 hours. There are a multitude of options available when it comes to choice of materials and manufacturing techniques. The service is of particular benefit to designers and engineers, who can quickly transform their ideas into tangible objects.
For more information on digitalisation and the Industry 4.0 competence network, please contact Kai Stührenberg, Tel.: +49 (0)421 9600 325, kai.stührenberg@wfb-bremen.de
Companies wishing to access the European market should be careful about their choice of location. Brexit could result in significantly higher financial and tax burdens for UK-based companies. Under these circumstances, setting up a base on the continent might be a better option. Find out what challenges companies will be facing.
Keen to remain in Bremen? Then why not combine residency status with self-employment? Manuel Kühn from Bremeninvest’s welcome service knows all about how a start-up could allow British citizens to beat Brexit and kill two birds with one stone.
Fiona Moore is originally from Burton-on-Trent, near Birmingham, and now works as a freelance translator in Bremen. She fell in love with Bremen in her early twenties. That was back in 2000, but 17 years later she is still as enchanted by the city as she was on the first day. She tells us about settling in Bremen, about her family and about being fortunate to have found a home in here.
Photography studios, workshops and professional kitchens are rarely fully occupied round the clock. So why not let others share them? The german start-up Craftspace brings together providers of production spaces with entrepreneurs, small business owners and artists on a single online platform. It’s an arrangement that benefits everyone.
It’s an adventure playground for kids, an idyllic sanctuary for couples, and a quiet retreat for those looking to escape from stress – from joggers and Nordic walkers to lovers of nature and culture, the Bürgerpark in the centre of Bremen has something for everyone. For the last 150 years, this protected heritage site in the centre of Bremen has relied solely on the support of donations to keep it open and well-maintained.
A great deal of manual labour goes into aircraft construction. Despite this – or perhaps even because of it – Airbus is changing its approach to make increased use of digital technologies. It’s also researching the applications of new manufacturing technologies such as 3D printing. And not a moment too soon, as Airbus’ site manager in Bremen, Dr André Walter, explains in our interview.
GeoSea, a subsidiary of the Belgian DEME group, is helping to construct of some of the largest offshore wind farms in the German North Sea – and in Bremen, the company has found the ideal location to carry out its work.
Art, design and people with disabilities make up the fascinating focus of the work of two young designers from Bremen. Working together with employees from community-based workshops, they develop and improve on designs for handmade products – and are continually thrilled by the potential they see in their co-designers.
Environmentally friendly manufacturing and ethical standards are the principles on which the fair trade clothing sector is based. Leela Cotton, a successful German-Turkish textile company, produces clothes for children and adults that are not only stylish, but also make a positive contribution to the environment in the way they are manufactured.
Why have so many IT companies chosen to establish themselves in Bremen? We asked five key business figures and researchers from various organisations to tell us what makes the city such an attractive location for the IT sector.
3D imaging with millimetre accuracy for underwater industrial activities and deep sea exploration – company founder Jakob Schwendner has a very clear goal. The first prototype of a camera with brand new sensor technology was built in Canada and presented to industry professionals at the Ocean Business conference in Southampton, United Kingdom, in April.
The Bremen Hansalinie Industrial Estate is a successful business park that is currently undergoing expansion. Several major logistics companies have based themselves here, developing increasingly sophisticated processes that aim to optimise just-in-sequence production for the automotive industry.
Of all the states in Germany, Bremen has the highest density of major research institutions in relation to its population – a fact that also benefits those who study there. It offers a range of international education opportunities for prospective academics with strong practical relevance and research activities that span a diverse range of fields.
Weatherproof displays for transport services, and screens that don’t produce glare in bright sunlight – these are just some of the devices provided by AlfaNet Computer und Electronic Handels GmbH, a Bremen-based company founded nearly 25 years ago by Thomas Lie.
They came, they saw, they marvelled – Chinese business people in Bremen visited the Mercedes-Benz plant and were surprised to find that an automotive manufacturer with a vast robot workforce was also Bremen’s largest employer, with just under 13,000 (human) employees. But where do they all work?
Three continents, four countries, and Bremen at the centre of it all – a start-up could hardly be more international. The young entrepreneurs Ahmed Cheema and Stefan Kuzmanovski want to make sustainable manufacturing and the use of ethically sourced materials standard practice.
Bremen: Down-to-earth, yet always ready to surprise you. An attractive place to live, a city through which we can move easily and without stress – on foot along the river Weser, on two wheels through the many parks, or by tram through the city centre. People from different cities and countries tell us why they fell in love with Bremen and have made their lives here.
Bremen has been twinned with the city of Dalian in north-eastern China since 1985. Find out more about the similarities and connections that the two port cities share.
Up to now, cricket has been very much a niche sport in Germany. But that is changing. In Bremen, a woman is calling the shots in this male-dominated sport – with great success. Her men’s team are the 2016 German cricket champions.
Wearables and smart glasses provide hands-free digital information. A visit at the headquarter of the global market leader for Industrial Wearable Computing, Ubimax in Bremen.
In 2016, companies invested a combined total of €229 million in the federal state of Bremen. Where do these investors hail from, how many jobs have they created, and what is their line of business? Our infographics provide an overview.
How will the UK’s impending exit from the EU affect the logistics sector? Günther Hörbst, Managing Director of the Via Bremen Foundation, on the economic links between the United Kingdom and the EU
The Chinese designer Haoyu Li combines his German design degree with Chinese business acumen. Now he is opening a design office in Bremen, with the aim of making it easier for Chinese products to enter the German market, and to bring German brands to China.
The colours of the local football team are not the only thing that's green about Bremen, as you'll see when you take a stroll around its parks and open spaces. A look at the statistics shows that Bremen is not only Germany's tenth-largest city, it is also its third-greenest, offering plenty of space to enjoy nature.
The high standard of logistical expertise in the state of Bremen functioned as a key to open doors, making this a successful year for Bremen. 2016’s successes were marked by automobiles and steel, welcoming ambitious international companies.
From initial idea to successful move. Andreas Gerber, who heads up the international relocation team at Bremeninvest, knows what international companies need to do to set up a business in Bremen. Here he tells us about the most important steps on the ...
Hard facts take top priority when it comes to the choice of location for international or domestic businesses. But the faster we feel comfortable outside the workplace in the everyday routines and culture of a foreign country, the sooner we feel at home. In addition to trade, science – and of course its port, Bremen has plenty to offer when it comes to quality of life.
BLG LOGISTICS GROUP AG & Co. KG’s AutoTerminal in Bremerhaven is a record-breaking automotive hub. Every year, the terminal handles some 2.3 million vehicles. But that’s not all.
Going it alone is rarely an easy option. Co-working enables entrepreneurs to work in a shared space and experience the benefits and synergies that come with this. There are nine co-working spaces in Bremen – which one is right for you?
Permits and authorisations, a mountain of applications and a language barrier too. These are just some of the difficulties you face when starting a business abroad. Luckily, an advice centre opened in Bremen in early 2015 that can help you through the jungle: Bremeninvest’s welcome service.
Geographical distance and cultural differences make it hard to relocate or start up a company in another country. Luckily, help is at hand from the team at the World Trade Center (WTC) in Bremen. They'll do all they can to make your international business a success.
In December 2016 ministers from the European Space Agency (ESA) member states met to determine the roadmap for the European space sector for the years ahead. Baden-Württemberg, Bavaria and Bremen submitted joint recommendations. In the following interview Dr Peter Vits, Bremen's State Coordinator for the Space Sector, talks about Bremen's strengths and opportunities.
The sky is not the limit, at least not in Bremen. All parts of the aerospace sector are represented in the city, from R&D to production. Aeroplane wings, Ariane rockets and Galileo satellites – Bremen is one of the leading locations in the international aerospace industry. Here are five factors behind Bremen’s story of success.
In 2015 Bremen won the right to host the International Astronautical Congress for the second time, after having successfully held the event in 2003. Its bid was the result of a collaboration between the Bremen regional government and Bremen’s space industry and space research sector. Event partners include the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy and the German Aerospace Centre.
The Bremen region has long been a pioneer in electric mobility and is now set to enjoy further success after Mercedes-Benz and Borgward announced that they will be making electric vehicles in the city.
Bremen knows how to make cars: the Mercedes-Benz plant by the Weser river has been in operation for almost 40 years, is the focal point of the city’s automotive industry and automotive clusters, and is now the company’s biggest global facility in terms of vehicle production numbers. Reason enough for an ever-growing number of suppliers and logistics firms to base themselves in Bremen.
Sometimes you have to learn from other people's mistakes and trust your instincts. That is what Muhammad-Farhan Aslam believed when he took over his father's business. Not only did he change the business model, but he also shelved his own plans to move to England. Instead he stayed in Bremen. And it turned out to be one of many good decisions that he made.
For 30 years, the Cargo Distribution Centre in Bremen has delivered excellence – as an investment location and a logistics hub. Today more than 150 companies employing approximately 8,000 people are based at the site. It offers direct links to the ports, the autobahn and has a close proximity to Bremen City Airport.
Language barriers, unfamiliar legal and fiscal systems, qualifications that need to be recognised. There are many additional hurdles that entrepreneurs have to overcome when setting up a new branch or a new company in a different country. Bremeninvest is committed to offering you advice and support from the outset.
You might expect a Bremen-based company specialising in innovative instruments and implants for spinal surgery to be located at the Technology Park. But you'd be wrong. NuVasive Germany GmbH has its head office at the heart of the city centre next to Wallanlagen Park. Now employing a team of 44 people, the company generates annual revenue of more than €10 million – a figure that looks set to rise.
David Zhou came to Bremen three years ago with the aim of conquering the market – and a new continent – with LEDs. He started his business selling LED lighting and electronics at the World Trade Centre at Bremen Airport and has gradually built it up over the past few years.