Many businesses are interested in 3D printing but they don’t know where to start

Stephan Kühr, founder and manager 3YOURMIND GmbH
Stephan Kühr, founder and manager 3YOURMIND GmbH

The company 3YOURMIND GmbH focuses on efficient workflows in additive manufacturing. On their web platform, users can first do a plausibility check for their 3D construction, then look for a suitable manufacturing services provider.

By Peter Trechow, VDMA, Germany

Corporations use the founders’ services as well so as to manage their additive manufacturing for several locations. In this interview, founder and manager Stephan Kühr explains his perspective on the biggest potentials for improving this young technology.

Peter Trechow: “Not all readers know 3YOURMIND GmbH. Could you give a brief introduction to your company?”

Stephan Kühr: Sure. We started 3yourmind in 2013 as a project at Technische Universität Berlin, and in 2014, we officially founded our GmbH. At the beginning, there were three of us. By now, we have grown, and today, we have 35 employees. From the very beginning, we focused on software tools that analyze 3D files, and on workflow management in the additive process chain.

“Which part of the value chain in additive manufacturing do you cover?”

Kühr: Generally speaking, we are the link between those who want to print parts and those who possess the manufacturing systems. On our platform, they can first analyze their 3D file with our tools, to check for possible faults and for printability – and if necessary, they can repair it, optimize supporting structures, or plan and decide on methods for postprocessing. Next to this, our platform serves as a market place where our customers can compare services providers, their prices and delivery times as well as system and material availability, all before commissioning. In addition, we offer an in-house workflow software. With this, companies can manage their additive manufacturing technology in various locations, optimize their workload, and in the case of a shortage, procure external services providers, as well as handle their orders as a whole.

“Additive manufacturing is maturing. Does that mean that new customers’ expectations become more realistic? And who are these customers?”

Kühr: As a rule, our customers come from the automotive sector and from machinery and plant engineering. Mostly, they have been working with additive manufacturing in rapid prototyping for several years. Therefore, they know what to expect from us. Now, they have reached a limit in their production volume, and so they need more efficient, automated workflows. Examples would be racing applications, small batch series in the luxury class or in special machine construction. Their need for professional solutions and reproducible quality keeps growing with growing quantities.

“As a mediator between users and manufacturers, you gain deep insights. Where do you see the greatest deficits in the additive process chain?”

Kühr: These deficits are being discussed everywhere: process stability, material availability, costs, and productivity all leave a lot to be desired. There are many applications where additive technologies already offer advantages compared to traditional production technologies. However, they are hard to find. In my view, this is one of the main problems in 3D printing: many businesses are very interested in additive manufacturing but they don’t really know where to start. For these companies, we presented a new software solution at the Hannover Messe with two renowned partners. This software scans part databases and checks parts and part groups for 3D printability. If I have 500,000 parts in a database, then the software will filter out all those suitable for additive manufacturing. This analysis can go deeper with further manual input – for example, into safety-relevance, impact forces, or environmental conditions at the site of operation. It creates a matrix which renders visible the technological and economical arguments for additive manufacturing. With 500,000 parts, the software will find a few dozen that promise an immediate advantage with additive manufacturing; and maybe a few hundred other parts where further analysis seems promising. Thus, construction engineers receive important leads on where and how to begin. The software is based on knowledge our partners gathered in many years of practical experience.

“The industry is asking for automated process chains where production and postprocessing technologies of diverse manufacturers would be connectible via plug and play. What is needed in order to reach that?”

Kühr: It has been our incentive to establish exactly such process chains to procure for our customers an easy access to additively manufactured components. No matter which material or which technology. However, we focus on the pre-chain, as we pave the way for efficient and clear-cut communication. We do not attend to processes during manufacturing or their automation. We as a start-up would not be the right ones for that, players from production automation and factory control would do a much better job than we do. There is a lot of work waiting in this area – but in the end, things will move into the direction of uniform data standards and interfaces to efficiently interlink machines and systems by diverse manufacturers.

“What were your goals and interests in joining the Additive Manufacturing Association?”

Kühr: In an increasingly interlinked industry, you won’t come far as a lone fighter. This is all the more true in a digital technology, such as additive manufacturing. We are interested in sharing experiences with other players and users of the sector to develop further and to discern new trends. In the Association, we have looked for and found this kind of exchange.