You are here

3D printing in Flanders: the art of additive manufacturing

Additive manufacturing, or 3D printing, offers applications for a wide range of industries, from made-to-order prosthetics in healthcare to custom machine parts for the automotive and aeronautics industries. New ground-breaking uses for 3D printing are constantly being discovered – and a lot of that is happening in Flanders! Filip De Weerdt, Science and Technology Coordinator at FIT, interviewed Pieter Machtelinckx from sector organization Flam3D to get a 360° view of our region’s 3D ecosystem.

3D printed material

Innovation at the core

Flanders has a strong history in 3D printing. KU Leuven, one of the region’s and even the world’s most-innovative universities according to news organization Reuters, has been a frontrunner in the field since the very beginning. From developing novel printing techniques and using new materials (such as plastics and metal) to exploring potential applications, the university has made a mark in the local and international 3D printing scene. In fact, KU Leuven’s research is so successful that it has resulted in two world-renowned spin-offs: 3D-printing companies Materialise and LayerWise, which is now part of 3D Systems.

Yet 3D printing innovation is not just happening in Leuven. It’s taking form all across Flanders, with several other universities developing their own area of expertise: UGent in Ghent is conducting research on extrusion technologies, particularly for polymers, concrete and even biomaterials. VUB in Brussels, meanwhile, is exploring the possibilities of hybrid printing. This enables 3D printing and post-processing to be done on the same machine.

In addition to universities and research institutes, Flanders is home to plenty of innovative 3D printing companies and projects. Take Luxexcel, an eyewear company that has created a 3D printing solution to manufacture fully customized prescription lenses for eyewear and smart glasses. Another example? How about the world’s first fully liveable 3D-printed house, created by Kamp C?

Materialise – driving 3D printing innovation since 1990

Active since 1990, Materialise was – and still is – a 3D printing pioneer, generally considered as one of the top-5 additive manufacturing companies in the world. The company leverages its experience to create a range of software solutions and 3D printing services. Materialise’s open and flexible platforms enable innovative 3D solutions in industries such as healthcare, automotive, aerospace, art and design and more.

The secret: strong collaboration

How has Flanders been able to consistently keep innovating in the field of 3D printing? Simple: it has invested in a strong, collaborative ecosystem. “Flanders brings together a great number of different 3D printing actors in a relatively small geographical location,” Pieter Machtelinckx, communication manager at Flam3D, elaborates. “In Flanders, there’s close-knit network of suppliers, research institutes, technology developers, printing companies and manufacturing companies that can benefit from 3D printing technology. This network is quite unique worldwide. It’s easy to connect with every type of partner you need, from initial research to post-processing firms and organizations.”

In Flanders, it’s easy to connect with every type of partner you need for additive manufacturing success.

Pieter Machtelinckx
Communication manager at Flam3D

Bringing all these players together is the main mission of sector organization Flam3D. Pieter: “Collaboration is key to innovation and the growth of the 3D printing industry. That’s why we stimulate the ecosystem mindset among our members. Flanders’ 3D printing industry has always believed in working together: Flam3D was founded because companies like Materialise as well as research institutes wished to institutionalize a collaborative system.”

Illustrating this collaborative mentality, Flam3D and its members created the ‘Family of the Future’ project. It consisted of 3 mannequins which were covered in several 3D-printed parts, and was picked up by press around the world because collaboration on that scale had never been done before in 3D printing. “The project really demostrates the power that a strong network has,” Pieter concludes.

Flam3D – creating 3D printing connections

Flam3D is an independent additive manufacturing network and a special interest group of SIM Flanders. Its members are companies and organizations that are part of the 3D printing value chain in Flanders and the Netherlands. It was founded in June 2015 by several partners from the 3D printing industry, with the support of Flanders Innovation & Entrepreneurship.

A complete ecosystem

It’s clear that Flanders’ prowess in the field of 3D printing is mainly due to its extensive and cohesive ecosystem. Each part of the value chain is represented in the region: suppliers, manufacturers, 3D printing services providers, manufacturing companies using additive or hybrid manufacturing, schools and research institutes. Below is a short, sweet, non-exhaustive overview of the region’s players.

For research:

  • Flanders Make, the strategic research center for the manufacturing industry
  • Universities: KU Leuven, Ghent University, UHasselt and VUB
  • University colleges: Odisee, Vives and Thomas More

For product development:

  • 3MOTION: a dynamic and innovative company specializing in large-format 3D printing and visual communication.
  • VHA: offers prototype engineering & construction of additive manufacturing (AM) machines, as well as automation solutions for 3D-printed products.
  • Twikit: its cloud-based software platform allows users to easily create custom designs for 3D printing.

For printing services and post-processing:

  • ZiggZagg: one of the largest printing service companies in Europe, based in Aalter (Flanders).
  • OMD3D: at OMD3D you can have a design made, print a product or buy a printer. The focus is on ecological solutions, sustainability and recycling.
  • Guaranteed: this company repairs and refurbishes large metal machines and machine parts. These parts are often unique and tailor made, and very costly to replace. 3D printing partially solves this issue.

5 benefits of 3D printing

3D printing is quickly gaining popularity due to the many benefits it has to offer in a wide variety of fields – from custom prosthetics in healthcare to made-to-order machine parts for industrial use. Some of the main advantages are:

  1. It is fully customizable
    3D printing enables the creation of parts or structures to fit precise specifications. This means that the printed item will fit exactly in the space it is intended for. One example of this is custom inserts that can be printed for people with skull fractures.
  2. It requires less or no welding
    Items that are 3D printed are created as parts in their entirety. This means they are often stronger, as they will not have any welding seams or other weak points. 
  3. It allows for new structural possibilities
    With 3D printing, it becomes possible to create shapes that were impossible to achieve before due to manufacturing process limitations. Additionally, it can also be used to make lighter, more durable parts.
  4. It lessens or even removes the need for stock
    As any part can be 3D-printed as and when needed, keeping a large stock of machine parts that will potentially need replacing is no longer necessary. In fact, 3D printing has reached the point where it is possible to simply print the new part directly onto the existing machine.
  5. It can lower the total cost
    By eliminating the need to keep a large supply of parts handy in storage and by extending the lifespans of machines, 3D printing is often a more budget-friendly option in the long run.

More info

Reported by
Flanders Investment & Trade (FIT)
14 September 2020

More news about Flanders?

  • Regular updates
  • No spam

Interested in doing business in Flanders?

Let us help you!

  • We can introduce you to other companies, banks and regulators
  • We organize site visits to real estate locations
  • We assist with all legal aspects of setting up a business
  • We're an official government agency
  • Our services are completely free
  • We are a team of international experts

Receive our handbook to growing your business in Flanders

  • It's completely free.
  • Get an overview of all incentives relevant to your company.
  • Tax system explained in-depth.
  • Learn how to set up your business quickly.
  • Discover the benefits of Flanders (in addition to the chocolate).

In addition to the ebook, I agree to receive one or two follow-up emails