How 3D Printing Is Helping Fine-Tune German Industry

Companies like Munich's EOS are breaking new ground in the manufacturing world. And rather than kill industry jobs, their technology-driven approach may actually be saving them.

Working on 3D printers at EOS
Working on 3D printers at EOS
Horst Wildemann

MUNICH — Eos was the goddess of dawn in ancient Athens. The rosy-fingered beauty in a saffron-yellow robe had an ability that set her apart from all the other titans in Greek mythology: She would hurry on ahead of the Sun — Helios — the giver of all life.

Hers is also the name of a German company, EOS, founded in Munich in 1989, although in this case, the word isn't drawn from mythology. It's an acronym, short for Electro Optical Systems, a term that describes laser systems. Still, the Bavarian tech company shares an important trait with its ancient namesake: It too wants to always be ahead, the harbinger of a sunny future.

EOS is very much on the cutting edge in Germany. But it's not a job killer. Nor does it weaken country as a production power. EOS is evidence, rather, of the benefits of digitalization in manufacturing: a massive increase in productivity and flexibility. As a result, production in Germany remains competitive despite high wages. In many cases, it even outperforms foreign production.

In-house logistics and supplies are no longer necessary.

EOS achieves this with special machinery for the so-called additive manufacturing, also known as 3D printing. The Bavarian company focuses on the production of metal parts that are not milled, turned or sawn from a blank as usual, but rather welded together layer by layer, so to speak, by using metal powder in a process called laser sintering. The process is controlled by computers fed with enormous amounts of design and production data.

The savings and benefits for the customer are astonishing, as shown by the example of the injector head of a rocket engine for the European launch vehicle Ariane 6. Since 3D printing makes it possible to manufacture in shapes that would not be possible with conventional methods — or only with unjustifiably high effort — the use of materials is greatly reduced.

In this case, instead of manufacturing and assembling 248 individual parts, additive manufacturing allows the injector head to be produced from a single mold. As a result, in-house logistics and supplies are no longer necessary, the share of labor costs drops, and with it the impact of Germany's high wages compared with that in developing countries.

German know-how

EOS and its 3D printers, furthermore, is just one star in an entire emerging universe. And in Germany, another company — Oerlikon — is positioning itself right at its center. The Swiss mechanical engineering group is planning to lay, in Germany, the foundations for the broad application of 3D printing in metal processing. To this end, the Swiss company is investing 30 million euros in Munich.

With the expansion on the banks of the river Isar, Oerlikon has committed itself to a Herculean task, namely the large-scale industrialization and spread of 3D printing of metal parts. The basis for this is the development of new metal powders suitable for additive manufacturing.

Oerlikon is already the European leader in this field and the company is creating new jobs in Germany with its investments in Munich. The long-term goal, however, is to become a one-stop supplier of 3D printing technologies in metal processing in Germany. To this end, Oerlikon is developing new construction methods that are nature-oriented. This allows the production of complicated components that are lighter but also more stable than conventional parts.

Germany offers the know-how. A year-and-a-half ago, Oerlikon took over Citim, a company of 100 employees based in Magdeburg. The East Germans are specialists in the use of 3D printing machines for metal materials and are regarded as the world leader in this sector behind the U.S. company Morris, which was taken over some four years ago by General Electric.

Made to order

The experiences of Oerlikon and EOS have so far shown that, with the help of additive manufacturing, it is possible to produce in a short amount of time components that are exactly tailored to the customer's wishes, available to the customer in the shortest possible time, and made domestically, rather than in a low-wage country.

Additive manufacturing is thus becoming a key technology of digitalization.

For the local metal processing industry — in Europe's strongest economy and in the center of the Old Continent — this offers enormous potential for improving competitiveness and even bringing production back to Germany. The increasing individualization of demand and the acceleration of business through online platforms indeed benefits those who can deliver promptly because they produce quickly and locally.

Additive manufacturing is thus becoming a key technology of digitalization and, with its gigantic treasure trove of design drawings and production programs, it opens up previously unimagined possibilities for companies to produce in the country. For example, German car manufacturers could stop keeping spare parts for mostly older vehicles in stock or laboriously reproducing them. Instead they could use 3D printing to make the pieces on a case-by-base basis.

The German sporting goods company Adidas recently caused a sensation when it opened its so-called Speedfactory in the Bavarian city of Ansbach, creating 160 new jobs. There, as well as in another new factory in the U.S., the three-stripe company is planning to produce individual sports shoes in small runs of 500,000 pairs per year using a 3D printing process.

With the innovative drive made in Bavaria, Adidas will only serve a niche. But let's wait and see. The trend towards individualization through digitalization, and thus towards producing close to where your customers are, is already spreading throughout the entire industry. Rather than fear these tech-driven shifts, people should have every reason to feel optimistic.

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What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel


BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.

Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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