Germany and Europe have a leading position in the development of 3D printing. Germany comes in second behind the U.S. in a study published Monday by the European Patent Office (EPO). In fact, if you look at Europe as a whole, it is in first place, with almost half of all patent applications.
EPA: "Good performance" of the German industry
Europe, and Germany in particular, are in a good position when it comes to 3D printing, says the EPO’s chief economist, Yann Menière. This is about the transformation of traditional industries, he explained – and if the established European champions in fields such as aviation, chemicals or car manufacturing are flexible enough, they could take advantage of their opportunities here. The German industry is doing this, with a "good performance" in all segments of the value chain.
For its study, the EPO evaluated 3D printing patent applications from 2010 to 2018. In a comparison of countries, US companies are in first place with 5747 applications, followed by Germany with 3155. The European countries – we’re not just talking about the EU here – have a total of 7863 registrations, or 47 percent of the total.
While the EPO acknowledges that paying for patents filed in Europe may overrepresent European companies, the effect is not gross, it said. Anyone who wants to protect a patent worldwide should also do so at the EPO.
Patents especially in health, energy and transport
The development in 3D printing is rapid: From 2015 to 2018, the EPO registered a growth of 36 percent per year on average in applications. And Menière expects growth rates to remain high. The technology is on its way out of the niche: If you look at the area of the 3D business, it is a market of perhaps 9 billion euros worldwide last year. But this could double by 2022. However, if we look at value creation, we are talking about completely different dimensions. About 5 percent of global production could provide the technology in the future.
Particularly many patents came from the healthcare sector during the study period, which ranked first with 4018. This is followed by the energy sector with 2001 and the transport sector with 961 applications.
Siemens in third place, BASF in fifth
In the ranking of the companies with the most patents, the U.S. groups General Electric and United Technologies are in first and second place with 875 and 810 applications respectively. Third place goes to Siemens with 645. Other German representatives in the top 25 include BASF in fifth place, MTU in 10th place, Evonik (18.) and EOS (20.).
3D printing was further boosted by the Corona crisis, when the technology was used to quickly create parts and spare parts for machines or to make masks or face shields, among other things. "This was a demonstration of the capabilities of the technology", says Meniere.