Will The Materialise Group spearhead the 3D printing revolution?

August 31, 2011

Materialise, A Belgian-based hi-technology firm, has become one of the pioneers of the 3D printing revolution. What are the chances of it becoming another Apple?

Wilfried Vancraen

The Materialise Group was set up in 1990 by a young engineer Wilfried Vancraen as a joint venture with the University of Leuven, Belgium. The firm still retained its headquarters in the University town. The venture aimed to develop the emerging engineering science of stereolithography.


The termed was coined by an American inventor Charles W. Hull a few years earlier, defined as “a method and apparatus for making solid objects by successively “printing” thin layers of [chemically-fixed or ‘cured’] material…” It has become associated with related terms such as additive technology and 3D printing. Conceptually it may be thought of as a stereoscopic scanning of a 3 dimensional object and presenting information to “print” out a thin layer of chemicals which are fixed by UV and become the base for subsequent layers.

Materialise’s first years

Within a few years, the firm’s ideas and prototypes were winning design and innovation awards. Initial applications were for ‘demonstrator’ processes attracting attention for their potential for medical applications. By the turn of the century it had established centres around the world including the United States. More recently the organisation has been able to raise awareness of the potential for its knowhow far beyond its dental markets. The potential for art and design has been particularly recognised.

Mission and Vision

The company website states:

The company’s founders have always had one main objective: striving to develop products that add real value to a designer’s, patient’s or toolmaker’s work and life. [Our] mission is to innovate product development resulting in a better and healthier world through its software and hardware infrastructure and in-depth knowledge of additive manufacturing.

Our product developmentfocuses on making the world ‘better’ through making ‘better’ products [which save lives and make life more comfortable. This vision relies on dedicated software infrastructure and state-of-the art equipment, combined with specialized knowledge executed through the Materialise core competences. The mission statement is telling ‘what’ we are trying to achieve, our value statement is indicating ‘how’ we are going for this mission.

We strive to add value for customers, until they become fans, with a team of specialists, in an open environment that favors personal growth on a healthy financial basis.

The Company Structure

As of January 2011, the company consisted of eight Business Units in the fields of: Rapid Prototyping & Low Volume Manufacturing; Additive Manufacturing Software; fixturing, Measuring & Scanning; Biomedical R&D; Cranio-MaxilloFacial Surgery; Orthopaedics; MGX Design Lighting Accessories; and i.materialise [3D Printing Made by You]

Wilfried Vancraen

The corporate founder and CEO Wilfried Vancraen has a high profile for his technological innovations. In this respect there are echoes of Apple’s Steve Jobs.

23 May 2011 Wilfried Vancraen [CEO of Materialise] wins RTAM/SME Industry Award

Wilfried Vancraen was selected to receive this prestigious award by the RTAM/SME Industry Achievement Award Subcommittee in recognition of his exceptional contributions and accomplishments in the Rapid Technologies & Additive Manufacturing industry.

A pioneer in his industry, Wilfried (“Fried”) Vancraen has been developing breakthroughs in the medical and industrial applications of Additive Manufacturing (AM) at Materialise for more than 20 years. Fried also pioneered several major applications in the AM sector including stereolithographic medical models, colored stereolithographic medical models, perforated support structures, RapidFit Fixtures, and automated hearing aid design.

Fried has recently undertaken the launch of the i.materialise website which allows consumers to express themselves by turning their ideas into 3D reality. The website empowers consumers to create designs that enrich their lives and enables them to share their sense of beauty with the people around them by adding unique touches to their environment.

The next Apple?

Materialise has not yet gained global recognition, but there are some similarities to the Apple brand in its ceaseless innovativeness, and technologically brilliant founder.

Updating Notes:

[1] Dentistry has been a fertile profession for innovation. An earlier post described an alternative process from Nobel Biocare, a technical competitor.

[2] The Victoria & Albert Museum is to hold a design exhibition Industrial Revolution 2 exploring the artistic potential of 3d Printing.

[3] Further revolutionary applications are reported [April 2012] which could result in a home pharmacy from which you would ‘print a drug’.

[4] See Sky News 3D Printing Revolution Could Re-Shape World [May 25th 2012] citing 3D Additive research firm Econolyst and EPSRC research centre at Loughborough University

[5] In April 2013 the first hand gun was produced and successfully fired as a trial of 3D printing applications.
More about ‘home office factories’

LWD subscriber Dr Dina Williams contributed this BBC youtube

If God sends a hurricane, what should you pray for?

August 29, 2011

As Hurricane Irene headed towards the Eastern seaboard of the United States, President Obama cut down on his customary symbolic delivery of his message to the people facing the storm. It was a time of practical action ahead of religious observations

I was listening to a radio interview three thousand miles from the action, a few hours before the anticipated arrival of Hurricane Irene on America’s eastern seaboard. President Obama had spoken gravely of the historic dangers facing some 55 million Americans. His instructions were urgent and precise. Prepare. Evacuate vulnerable low-lying areas. Treat the instructions from local and State officials as mandatory.

An Obama speech is typically crafted to contain a rational message and a style or signature which signals his emotional commitments. The imagery implies his religion, love of country, and his cultural roots. In this speech, the rational substantially outweighed the symbolic.

Meanwhile on Coney Island

I would not have noticed the way the speech addressed the situational rather than the emotional factors in play, if I had not then heard the words of the Pastor of a Coney Island church. The name brought memories of a rattling train ride out to Brooklyn, NY for its famous Atlantic beach and amusement centers, and later a minor league Baseball team appropriately enough known as the Brooklyn Cyclones. Now I was listening to the words of a community leader preoccupied with the practical. Yes, Coney Island faced particular problems being geographically and socially vulnerable. People were preparing themselves, clearing out their cellars, boarding up, leaving their homes if necessary.

But what about prayer?

There was a pause which was filled when the reporter asked “what about prayer?” The question caught me by surprise. Maybe it caught the pastor by surprise as well. His hesitation was palpable. Yes of course. God answers our prayers.

What I heard got me thinking. President and pastor were focused on the immediate and practical needs of their people. You could say that it was a nice example of situational leadership. Thanksgiving and spiritual nurturing comes afterwards.

And I also wondered, if God sends a hurricane, just what should you pray for?


Image from internet reporting site Cleveland.com shows NBC reporter Peter Alexander attempting to broadcast from Coney Island boardwalk as Hurricane Irene passes close by

Apple faces a Jobless future

August 25, 2011

Tim Cook and Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs, iconic leader and one of the great creative innovators of his era, leaves the company he founded and built into a global superstar

The departure of Steve Jobs as leader of Apple on medical grounds has been anticipated in and outside Apple for some time. We can anticipate even more news coverage of the iconic figure whose design genius was behind a steam of products since the time of the first Apple personal computer, launched as the Apple 2

Quirky but much loved

This was quirky but much but much loved. Even the earliest versions were revolutionary in appearance and functioning. They suggested a future for personal computing that could not be imagined in the market leading IBM product and its host of imitators trying to be as compatible as a possible at lower cost.

The Apple Mac

Then the Apple Mac came along. This was even more obviously evidence of new species emerging. They are coming from a common ancestor, but retaining a genetic capacity to visualize as well as to digitalise.

IBM and clones under threat

Apple products become a serious threat to the generic sounding PC (i.e. IBM’s products and its clones). Compatibility was more an aspiration than a reality for each set of products, and even today there are enough differences to create famous entry barriers to switching from one of the two IT tribes.

Design excellence

Apple developed a brand image of innovation and design excellence. The company succeeded in grabbing a share of the emerging mobile phone market with its i-phone and then the tablet market with the i-pad. Apple stores became cathedrals for worshippers.

And each of the innovative leaps in the company was utterly associated with the design genius of Steve Jobs. Stock levels were seen to shift according to reports on his deteriorating health.

Symbolic leadership

This is one of the clearest example of symbolic leadership to be found in modern times. Steve Jobs was Apple. The closest parallel I can think of is that of Walt Disney. Incidentally, you can find fascinating comparisons of the two companies in the book Disney Wars.

All is not gloom and doom

There are naturally signs of bereavement at present at Apple. But all is not gloom and doom. Apple has had a strong internal candidate waiting to step up. The evidence is that the company has faced the realities of succession. Tim Cook is already highly regarded internally for his operational and organizational talents. He was appointed in what seemed like one last symbolic act after his strong endorsement by Steve Jobs in his letter of resignation. We will learn much more of Mr Cook in the coming months. Will Apple now enter a post-charismatic era in its public image?

Gaddafi was fooling some of the people all of the time

August 24, 2011

Saif al-Islam Gaddafi

Col Mummar Gaddafi’s regime was facing the end as the opposition forces met unexpectedly light resistance to their entry into Tripoli. It seems he had been “fooling some of the people all of the time”.

Sunday [August 21st 2011] the news from Libya was of fierce fighting outside the capital Tripoli. By Monday morning local time, troops had advanced into Tripoli with only light resistance. An announcement was made that the Transitional National Council (TNC) would move within days to Tripoli to form a transitional government.

A Tipping Point?

President Obama was reported as describing the events as a tipping point for Gaddafi’s regime. The term was repeated by other commentators. Perhaps it was. But it shows how much easier it is to recognise a tipping point in hindsight than in advance.

Fooling some of the people …

The tipping point also showed how Gaddafi had created a belief that his support in Tripoli was deep-rooted. It fooled many people including all the commentaries I had read. It was a view even held by the advancing forces according to one of their spokesmen. On one hand, Gaddafi’s statements had become more violent and irrational. Yet on the other hand he preserved the one big myth, of the strong support for his regime in Tripoli.

‘Reading and testing” leadership messages

When a leader speaks, you will always have a chance to test their message. It is easy to dismiss a public speech as ‘just rhetoric’, or ‘only propaganda’. But taking such a bleak view blocks off any deeper reflection. The point always to be remembered is that the most convincing message contains a grain of truth. Most of us swallowed as truth the wrong grain. It was hard to believe his statement that he was successfully overcoming ‘NATO aggression’. But maybe, just maybe, the displays of public support were not entirely orchestrated…

Belief swings?

overnight there was a different sort of tipping point. The evidence before our eyes was that the oppositional forces had swept into Tripoli. Far from meeting whole-hearted resistance there appeared to be minimum support for the regime. Now the belief swung in the opposite direction. Gaddafi had no support whatsoever.
The tipping point (again in hindsight) was in the perceptions of ‘wide support’ to ‘no support’.

The fragile euphoria of liberation

Against a visible background on continuing fighting, one joyful young woman told the BBC that ‘100% of people now opposed Gaddafi’. Her joy was unfeigned. Within hours other realities became clearer. There is a fragile euphoria to a yearning for liberation.

What happened next

What happened next has been widely recorded, as President Obama’s tipping point did indeed have some predictive accuracy. For a while, ‘the fog of war’ further confused matters, as his son Saif al-Islam stood triumphantly outside the compound [Pictured above, Tuesday 23rd August] to demonstrate as false the rumours was of his own arrest. But within days the evidence was of a regime damaged beyond any immediate fight back. Gaddafi’s central fortress was quickly overwhelmed.

The next symbolic act

The next important symbolic act is considered to be the capture of Colonel Gaddafi. Until then, the information available remains in need of serious testing as the world remakes its maps of Libya’s future.

FAS Brazil links with Google to ‘do no evil’ in the Amazon basin

August 22, 2011

FAS, a conservation organization in Brazil, has joined forces with Google’s controversial Street View activities. What are the opportunities and potential pitfalls in the relationship?

FAS (fundacao-amazonas-sustentavel) is a Brazilian organisation devoted to conservation. Yet even its best intentions can attract criticism for unintended consequences to the priceless resources of the Amazonian rain forests. For example, The World Rainforest Movement has criticised Fundação Amazonas Sustentável about its work in the Juma Sustainable Development Reserve.. Now, FAS must be bracing itself for the glare of publicity as it undertakes a project with the mighty Google organization.

Google does no evil

Google prides itself in its corporate social responsibilities. Yet its plans to capture information have been denounced as illegal and megalomanic. The company’s famous mission statement is “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful”. Its social responsibility side is captured by its equally famous motto “Don’t be evil”.

Dilemmas of privacy

A particular issue has been that of privacy and dilemmas of free speech.

Controversies and battles with governments have occurred in many countries around the world including Turkey, India, China, Germany and France over what is permissible according to national law. In the UK, the activities of its Street View operations have been seen as invasions of privacy.

Google has removed dozens of photos from its new UK Street View service. The street-mapping facility launched amid a fanfare of publicity but now the firm has been forced to pull some of the images after complaints. It is thought the pictures removed contained revealing images of homes, a man entering a London sex shop, people being arrested and a man being sick. A spokesperson for Google told the BBC that anyone could have their images removed if they asked.

Google announces its intentions with FAS

The Google/FAS plans were announced in a Google blog post

Members of our Brazil and U.S. Street View and Google Earth Outreach teams are currently in the Amazon rainforest using our Street View technology to capture images of the river, surrounding forests and adjacent river communities. In partnership with the Amazonas Sustainable Foundation (FAS), the local non-profit conservation organization that invited us to the area, we’re training some of FAS’s representatives on the imagery collection process and leaving some of our equipment behind for them to continue the work. By teaching locals how to operate these tools, they can continue sharing their points of view, culture and ways of life with audiences across the globe.

We’ll pedal the Street View trike along the narrow dirt paths of the Amazon villages and maneuver it up close to where civilization meets the rainforest. We’ll also mount it onto a boat to take photographs as the boat floats down the river. The tripod—which is the same system we use to capture imagery of business interiors—will also be used to give you a sense of what it’s like to live and work in places such as an Amazonian community center and school.

In this first phase of the project, the Google and FAS teams will visit and capture imagery from a 50km section of the Rio Negro River, extending from the Tumbira community near Manaus—the capital of the state of Amazonas—to the Terra Preta community. We’ll then process the imagery of the river and the communities as usual, stitching the still photos into 360-degree panoramics.

The road to hell?

As has been observed by theologically-minded map makers, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. What should the FAS leadership do to ensure their actions keep them on a better path?

Murray gets to Cincinnati semis but is he improving?

August 20, 2011

Andy Murray advances to the Semi Finals in the US Open warm-up event in Cincinnati. He believes he is making good progress. But has he made any significant improvement in his play over the last two years? [Opinion piece]

Five years ago there were these two promising young tennis players. Both were seen as likely world No 1s and likely grand slam winners. One fulfilled his potential. The other seems to have stalled.

Novak and Andy

Novak Djokovic progressed to become World No 1, grand slam winner, and favourite to win the US Open. Andy Murray is hanging in there at World No 4, which is still a great achievement, but looking increasingly in need of a quantum leap in play to fulfil his early promise. Few insiders doubt his talent at individual shot-making. He identified a need to get superfit and did something about it. On his day he has beaten the best in the world, including Nadal and Federer (both of whom were knocked out of the Cincinnati Open while Murray progressed to the Semi-finals.

From the bottom of the pile…

As my Tennis Ranking is not No 1, even in my own family. My observations on Murray’s tennis don’t count for much, unless you believe in the merits of a fresh perspective from the bottom of the pile. My professional knowhow is more about the processes through which people reach personal development goals.

Murray tries too hard?

There is one theme within personal development which suggests that you can be over-motivated. So bizarrely, Murray may be trying too hard. His self-abuse remains evident on court. He is too aware when a shot lacks perfection. And when he is not blaming himself his anger gets rechanelled towards his coaching staff (the membership of which changes rather too regularly in comparison to the stability of the Djokowic entourage.

The latest self-help effort

There seemed to be another conscious effort to loosen up in this tournament. Murray comes on court with a smile on his face. But it is a smile which reminds of the sad efforts made by former Prime Minister Gordon Brown. Gordon was notoriously uncomfortable in the public eye. His body language was poor, as the coaches like to say. Someone hit on the solution. Act confident, Gordon. Show you like it out there. Smile.

But the smile became a grimace of pain

It never really worked for Gordon Brown. The smile became a grimace of pain. If anything it gave comfort to his opponents.

I’m just hoping it will not do the same for Andy Murray.

Is Manchester United Up for Sale or Not?

August 18, 2011

Rumours abound that Manchester United’s owners are preparing an Initial Public Offering (IPO) to sell $1 billion dollars of shares on the Singapore Stock exchange. We attempt to tease out what’s going on

There have been reports for some time that the Glazers are preparing an exit strategy from their acquisition of Manchester United football club.

An exercise in kite flying?

In June, LWD noted that news of a floatation in Hong Kong seemed to be an exercise in kite flying.

More substantial evidence

This time, the story is backed up with more substantial evidence. The Wall Street Journal reported [Aug 16 2011] “United, which was listed on the London Stock Exchange as Manchester United PLC before a £790 million ($1.29 billion) takeover by the Glazer family in 2005, had initially planned to list in Hong Kong, but changed its mind and has now picked Singapore as a listing venue.”

Maximum offer assessed as ‘15% – 25%’

Bloomberg suggests that a proposed offering would involve sale of 15%-25% of the shares in the club.

What’s going on?

The club has so far exercised its right not to comment. Like any entrepreneurial owners, the Glazers have been developing an exit strategy for their venture into acquiring Manchester United. If such an IPO is successful, the club will arguably have restructured its debts somewhat. This in turn will be a step towards an eventual change of ownership.

Will more cash buy more success on the field?

Fans will hope for more cash to acquire top players as needed to compete at the very highest levels in world football. The situation is seen as more urgent since two major rivals in the UK (Chelsea and more recently Manchester City) have billionaire owners and more financial resources. If cash for players is to be the major factor in success, then MUFC fans will also be hoping that another billionaire will enter the fray some time further down the line.

Interestingly, Manchester United, current champions of the UK’s Premier league, have been remarkably successful under the stringent financial constraints of the Glazer regime.

The great Blackberry v iPhone debate: See Moneysupermarket’s rumble

August 16, 2011

Watch the battle between Blackberry and iPhone users in a gripping two-minute video from Moneysupermarketdotcom

The merits of the Blackberry and iPhone are portrayed as a battle between two protagonists, each arguing the case for his favoured product. A nice idea if you want an easy-to-understand and blow-by-blow account of the pros and cons of each product. You can see this engaging video on moneysupermarket’s post iphone vs Blackberry – which is best?

…only don’t expect too much similarity between the combatants and the rumble boxers in the image which is from juegomania.org

Bill Bratton to advise on London’s gang culture: A test case for creative leadership?

August 14, 2011

by Tudor Rickards

Bill Bratton is one of America’s top police officers, with a record of success as a strategic leader and change agent. His appointment by David Cameron to advise on gang culture offers a test case for theories of creative leadership and change

I have followed the story of Bill Bratton’s leadership methods for some years. The case is written up in the textbook Dilemmas of Leadership and has been revised for a new edition [2012]. It has also figured in an earlier LWD post [Dec 2006] in which it was compared with the efforts in Greater Manchester to deal with gang culture.

In an interview for the BBC Mr Bratton was reported as saying

“I think part of what the government is going to do is to take a look at what worked and what didn’t work during the course of the last week [Aug 2011]. My assignment is to focus more on the issues of the American experience dealing with gangs and what we may be able to share with them that might help them to prevent similar activities in the future. Our success in Los Angeles in reducing gang violence significantly was a co-ordination of very assertive tough police tactics but also a lot of community outreach, a lot of creative, innovative programmes such as a significant use of gang interventionists.”

Beyond Soundbites

The riots last week were accompanied by an outburst of suggestions from experts offering a welter of explanations and prescriptions. They were in part soundbites which tapped into simplistic notions of morality and control. Broadly, they gave comfort to the public mood of hawkishness for dealing with the rioters with debate around whether there was any benefit from seeking to understand the wider social context of alienation and disaffection.

In contrast, Bratton’s comments above links assertive tough police tactics with strategic programmes of a creative kind. This is not a simple concept to convey as a soundbite.

Police training and leadership development

HM Police forces in the UK have an international reputation for selection, training and development of its officers. Its training colleges continue to to provide support for other forces around the world. ACPO (the Association of Chief Police Officers) is far more than a professional trade union (which arguably it is). As an infrequent guest speaker, I can confirm that its annual conference engages with complex strategic, political, and operational matters in a challenging and impressive fashion.

As one ACPO member pointed out this weekend [Aug 12th 2011] senior police figures are in regular contact about best practices with their counterparts around the world including the United States.

Mr Cameron’s Departure Lounge favourites

The Prime Minister has shown an enthusiasm for emerging ideas for management and leadership. He has been known to encourage the reading of such books as Nudge , which outlines a system of social shaping through carefully designed feedback, consistent with Bill Bratton’s ‘zero tolerance for broken windows’ concept.

I have suggested [in the book Dilemmas of Leadership] that one leadership strategy for organisational change is the encouragement of widespread study of a favoured book. The idea was presented as a Departure Lounge dilemma in which a young executive has to evaluate the ideas in such a book rapidly. Mr Cameron’s cabinet presumably has members who pass on that challenge to advisors (some of whom may have drawn the book to the attention of the PM in the first place).

I have some recollection that the works of Malcolm Gladwell have also found favour in the past. Among then, The Tipping Point cites Bill Bratton and directly illustrates how a leader’s actions can trigger radical change.

For further study

The appointment of Bill Bratton has the hallmarks of a symbolic leadership gesture. That is not to say it has no practical value. The story is worth following and studying for its insights into currently popular leadership themes outlined above.

Social Media and the diffusion of unrest

August 10, 2011

Susan Moger

Rioting in England appears to have spread contagiously across London and then to other cities in August 2011. The process calls for new thinking about the nature of leadership and the activation of social networks

Riots in London and around the country over the last three days [August 8-10, 2011] have seen widespread looting and buildings set alight. Dozens were left homeless after a night of riots on the streets of Tottenham on Saturday after a peaceful demonstration over the death of Mark Duggan a local resident, who was shot by police a few days earlier [Thursday Aug 4th].

One part of the debate centres around the concept of a trigger event as the single cause or tipping point for future actions. If we examine a historical pattern of events , comparisons have been drawn with the rioting some twenty five years ago which were triggered off by police actions in the same social housing complex (the Broadwater Farm Estate) from which the victim came.

The disturbances in London have illustrated how quickly a latent focus for unrest and mistrust can be ignited, or reignited with tragic consequences.

Urban guerrilla warfare

The situation has been particularly difficult to deal with because of the rapid spread of information that can help organisers to mobilise, operate and retreat before the police and civil authorities were able to respond. The unrest is a type of modern urban guerrilla warfare.

How social networks operate

Work on how social networks operate reveals the importance of individuals known as network activators, who have skills at mobilizing the efforts within their social networks. Our studies began with evidence from entrepreneurs who seemed able to create localized gains in social capital resulting in personal and organisational innovations and change.

The concept of network activation can be extended to actions observed within the change processes occurring in the era of social media, whether these contexts are considered desirable or not.

Structural embeddedness

The suddenness of the escalation of the riots in London and elsewhere suggests that a trigger event can produce a cascade effect. Taking the historic perspective we may consider that that the conditions for change are contained (or structurally embedded) in localised conditions. This helps explain the reappearance of patterns of behaviours in the same geographical area.

In the era of social network sites

Texting, the use of mobile devices such as a Blackberry, and the development of social network sites such as Facebook and Twitter, place the authories’ response to social disorder at a severe disadvantage. They are dealing with multi-focal events happening very quickly over a short period of time.

There are short-term steps to restoring social calm including technological fixes and more rapid and emphatic police action . However, understanding and addressing the underlying mechanisms of how such disorder arises and is sustained must also be a priority to achieving social stability and equity.


Susan Moger is senior fellow in leadership at Manchester Business School. She has researched and written extensively about the processes of leadership, social networks and their activation. Her recent studies are to be published in the upcoming edition of the Handbook on the Knowledge Economy.

Image of Tottenham riot fire

Ironically, the first fatalities during the riots were from a hit and run driver. [Haroon Jahan, Shahzad Ali and Abdul Musavir]. Haroon’s father Tariq Jahan became a powerful figure pleading for community restraint [Aug 11th].

See also Clifford Stott’s analysis challenging ‘the mindset of a mob mentality’