Impact of 3D printing on the chemicals industry
October 2019 | TALKINGPOINT | BOARDROOM INTELLIGENCE
Financier Worldwide Magazine
October 2019 Issue
FW discusses the impact of 3D printing on the chemicals industry with Frank Jenner, global chemical industry leader at EY.
FW: Could you provide an insight into how 3D printing is impacting the chemicals industry? What factors are driving its growing adoption?
Jenner: 3D printing or additive manufacturing (AM) is nothing unfamiliar to chemical players. Quite the contrary, our latest global chemicals digitalisation study, launched in September 2019, shows that 75 percent of all chemical companies have experience with AM, above the average of 65 percent. However, only one-fifth of the chemical industry has reached a mature state and uses it for operations or acts as a supplier within the AM market. Fifty-five percent of the chemical industry is still in the early stages of testing and experimenting to identify AM’s impact on their businesses. AM offers multiple advantages for chemical companies – applying AM for machine parts helps improve the efficiency of operations, with AM materials a new and fast-growing revenue stream. As AM material providers, chemical companies are key players in the AM market that will directly impact its future development.
FW: What barriers need to be overcome?
Jenner: Although the overall demand for AM materials is increasing – especially for industrial applications – suppliers still struggle with cost-effective solutions. Research has shown that at 98 percent, almost every chemicals player believes that prices for AM materials are a major hurdle to adopting the technology. This may partly result from the closed-system architecture of many established AM systems that force material suppliers to cooperate. Moreover, most industrial companies still lack expertise about the processes, related materials and design of additives. Therefore, a common challenge across all industries is to identify the right applications. But chemicals players that are more mature in the AM market, as well as the co-innovation programmes and partnerships they are actively establishing, could help the industry overcome this barrier.
FW: Could you outline the key benefits that 3D printing brings to the chemicals sector?
Jenner: AM helps make companies’ operations more efficient. Fifty-two percent of the companies surveyed expect to achieve gains through AM within the next three years. But the biggest benefits will come from the new materials that will be developed for AM applications, bringing enormous growth potential for chemical companies. As AM is increasingly applied for end-use components, demand for the materials needed is growing accordingly. Almost one in two companies, 46 percent, expect to produce their serial parts with AM by 2022. Of course, this provides great opportunities for chemical companies to drive and benefit from the transformation.
FW: How does 3D printing contribute to the development of new chemical solutions and products, and new business for chemical companies?
Jenner: The materials for AM applications are a crucial component of the design process for additives, along with the system and parameters needed. Most of these new applications require new, customised materials in order that the developed part achieves the expected features or maximum efficiency. The process of identifying new AM applications for manufacturing companies from other industries is directly driving the innovation and development of the materials at chemical companies. Therefore, not only must clients and chemical companies collaborate, experts from AM system providers such as system manufacturers must be involved in co-innovation as well. In the last three years, over 120 partnerships in the AM market were formed, with chemical companies citing the identification of new applications and development of new materials as the two top reasons. Chemical companies are using these partnerships as a platform for driving innovation.
FW: What challenges do companies face in producing high-quality products additively?
Jenner: The prices of both systems and materials have been perceived as the key barrier to new applications of AM. With the liberalisation of the market and entrance of new competitors, material suppliers will drive the increase in applications of these technologies. However, the lack of knowledge around designing and producing AM products is also a key barrier. Because of these two main challenges, most of the new AM user companies are deciding not to invest in capacity and capability in-house. Rather, they are starting to test cooperation with service providers. Since this group of service providers plays a key role in finding new AM applications, and thereby will impact the need for new materials, we are seeing trends of downstream changes in the value chain and integration of these services at the material producers’ level. Often, this is done via acquisitions of existing service providers.
FW: What role do you expect chemical companies to play in the 3D printing value chain?
Jenner: Chemical companies will be a crucial co-creator of the next generation of AM applications. The growth of the AM market depends on finding the winning applications and the right materials. Therefore, chemical companies have a critical role in the further development of the market. If they extend their offerings with AM services such as design and contract manufacturing, they have a chance to position themselves as the strongest link in the value chain. Other considerations such as sustainability should also be factored.
FW: What advice would you offer to chemical companies on developing and implementing a 3D printing solution that lowers costs, boosts R&D and improves operational efficiency?
Jenner: Strengthening 3D printing competency in-house or through partnerships with technology and systems providers and getting closer to AM users will be crucial for chemical companies to position themselves in the market. Chemical companies should get intensively involved and facilitate the identification of new applications in the industries where AM is well-positioned, such as aerospace and industrial products, and in sectors that are nonconventional to AM, including construction. This is because there is a strong need for materials that enable special object features, smart materials or even 4D printing materials. Thirty-five percent of the companies we surveyed see future AM applications using high-performance polymers, 31 percent see standard or high-performance ceramics and 21 percent see construction materials. Chemical companies play an important role in meeting this demand.
FW: To what extent is 3D printing set to transform the chemicals sector in the coming years? What opportunities are on the horizon?
Jenner: AM materials will become an important part of chemical companies’ product portfolios. Companies could differentiate themselves by offering AM-related services and moving downstream to be closer to clients. Being part of the co-innovation process will be a competitive advantage for companies. Since the AM market is still developing, new sub-technologies and materials are being discovered daily. The chemical companies that get involved early at this stage will be the companies that gain the biggest benefits in the future, once AM is commonly used in all sectors.
Dr -Ing. Frank Jenner serves as EY global chemical industry leader, and has over 20 years of experience in delivering strategies in the chemicals, life sciences, consumer products and high-tech sectors. As the former leader of strategy and operations in the Germany-Switzerland-Austria Region, Mr Jenner focused on supply chain process modelling and design, value chain management, organisational change management, business improvement initiatives and transformational excellence. He can be contacted on +49 (621) 4208 18000 or by email: email@example.com.
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