This article is part of our special report Additive manufacturing, engine of industrial revival.
Reinhard Bütikofer is one of the most authoritative voices in the European Parliament on 3D printing. In his view, Europe will have to struggle over the next decade to be a leader in industry, and will get there only if it turns research efforts into innovative results.
Reinhard Bütikofer is a Green MEP from Germany and a member of the committee on Industry, Research, and Energy.
Bütikofer responded in writing to questions submitted by EURACTIV.com’s Jorge Valero before Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker’s 2017 State of the Union address.
The European Commission is expected to announce a new strategy on industrial policy soon. Do you expect an important role for additive manufacturing (AM)?
I expect President Juncker to address the need for a European Industrial Policy strategy in his State of the Union speech. I don´t care how he will call the baby, important is only the substance. I hope he will not get bogged down in discussing specific technologies.
Yes indeed, additive manufacturing will play an important role in the future. But an Industrial policy strategy has to overcome the silo-dominated approach of looking at specific technologies.
The strategy has to answer to the need for the right framework conditions which for instance concern access to finance, the competition and efficiency and sustainability rules under which the market operates, the provision of adequate skills and finally the right balance between sustainability and competitiveness.
How would you summarise the added value that this booming sector brings?
Additive manufacturing can promote resource efficiency because it creates less waste than traditional manufacturing. Additive manufacturing can strongly support the development of a circular economy by providing solutions for repair and reuse.
Additive manufacturing allows the individualisation of consumer-oriented production right down to lot size one. Additive manufacturing together with IoT technology allows producing completely new products and shaping new business models.
What actions would you prioritise to support AM in Europe, given that we risk losing our competitive advantage? Are we doing enough to maintain our leadership in the emerging fourth industrial revolution?
I don´t believe we can pat ourselves on the back and happily proclaim that we do indeed lead the fourth industrial revolution. We are still in contention with the US and East Asia, in particular, China. But the next five to ten years will decide whether we will indeed be able to at least be on the podium when the winners and the losers will be announced.
Additive manufacturing may indeed help to strengthen the competitive position of European industry if we manage to turn our research efforts into innovative results. In addition, additive manufacturing is a technology that reduces the relevancy of labour cost which would also contribute to Europe´s advantage.
For policy makers, the one obvious priority to support AM in Europe is financing research. Secondly, we should see to it that we avoid unnecessary regulatory burdens by creating one harmonized European set of rules and standards.
What are the sectors in Europe where the AM could have a significant impact?
The two sectors where AM already has practical relevance are health technology and aerospace. AM will thrive the most in sectors where cutting weight and individualization of products play a major role.
Globalisation is blamed for sending thousands of jobs to countries with cheap labour. To what extent could AM help in bringing some of those jobs back to Europe? Or would the impact be rather limited in terms of new jobs created?
I would be cautious with regard to promises of hauling back “thousands of jobs” from third countries through AM. AM can contribute to limiting further offshoring of jobs. It can contribute to a strong role of European industry in advanced manufacturing. But factors other than labour cost will play more decisive roles.