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The 11 modules of the SEI methodology focus on the key processes that enable the successful rollout of SEI

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In-depth explorations of the approaches and techniques used by leading organizations in the field of SEI today

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Useful downloads, from unique research to practical templates, frameworks and tools being used by SEI leaders

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Advances in 3D manufacturing shows potential of start-up collaborations

A closer look at some of the groundbreaking recent advances in 3D printing reveals a common trend: each has been powered by collaboration

Carbon 3D

2017 is shaping up to be a formative year for the use of 3D printing in manufacturing.

 

Last month, start-up Desktop Metal launched a 3D printing system capable of fabricating metal parts cheaply and efficiently. Their product has been heralded as potentially revolutionary for the way in which 3D printing is used in manufacturing – and it’s not alone. Fellow start-up Essentium recently launched FlashFuse, a machine that utilizes nanomaterial technology to strengthen 3D printing’s products and which the company claims will change printing “for good”.

 

It’s not only the technologies behind 3D printing that are making in-roads, however – a diverse range of 3D-printed products are increasingly landing on our shelves. By 2018, for example, Adidas plans on selling 100,000 pairs of Futurecraft 4D, their latest 3D printed running shoes.

 

But what’s interesting is that there’s a common thread running through these developments: behind each are compelling examples of collaboration at play.

 

Desktop Metal raised almost $100m from companies such as BMW and General Electric to power the development of its latest machines. Essentium, meanwhile, announced a partnership last month with chemicals giant BASF that will see the two working together to utilize FlashFuse in mass production.

 

A closer look at Adidas’s 3D printed running shoes reveals a similar story. Futurecraft 4D is the product of collaboration between the sportswear manufacturer and Carbon3D, a start-up that’s developed a process of 3D printing 10 times faster than other machines.

 

That these 3D printing innovations are designed by start-ups and accelerated by multinationals isn’t surprising. While the companies that we work with in the Supplier-Enabled Innovation Center (SEIC) understandably search for innovations predominantly in the supply base, we are finding that an increasing number are trying to engage with start-ups for innovation, and that this increases according to SEI maturity.

 

In our 2017 Supplier-Enabled Innovation survey, to be published in July, we found that an overwhelming proportion of companies with high-performing SEI programs look to start-ups for collaboration. Over 90% of top performers and 85% of mid-performers report that they target start-ups, compared to 55% of low-performing companies.

 

Similar results were discovered when examining methods for locating and developing innovation. Over 90% of high-performers and 65% of mid-performers use incubator programs compared to 45% of low-performers, indicating a strong correlation between investing in new companies and ultimate innovation success.

 

The reason behind these statistics is simple: when done properly, collaboration between multinationals and start-ups is hugely conducive to innovation. Advances in technologies like 3D printing are expensive, requiring high-value parts and specialized equipment to make and use. Lacking the financial muscle to do so, start-ups will naturally look to corporates for partnership; and corporates to them for the new technologies and innovations that they lack.

 

This type of relationship, of course, is nothing new, but it now looks set to deliver groundbreaking results in 3D printing. For many years, the possibility of 3D printing being used as an end-use manufacturing technology looked distant, but the technologies and collaborations discussed here have taken giant steps towards making it a reality.

 

It’s a success story that can act as a blueprint for similar collaborations. By leveraging the capabilities of both large corporates and small start-ups, collaborations such as these can speed up the innovation process and apply the results practically in the market.

 

But, importantly, the first step for companies looking to do the same is to truly embrace knowledge sharing and co-creation with third parties.

 

Samuel Wrest

 

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