Could Barcelona Become the World’s Additive Manufacturing Hub?
Ian Wright posted on October 18, 2017 |
From the air, the city of Barcelona itself looks like it could have been 3D-printed.
From the air, the city of Barcelona itself looks like it could have been 3D-printed.
When it comes to manufacturing and the impending fourth industrial revolution, many regions are aiming to become manufacturing hubs, each with their own speciality.

New Hampshire is heavily focused on biotech and medical device manufacturing. In Canada, Montreal is seeing huge potential in the burgeoning AI industry. Pittsburgh, once renowned as Steel Town, has rebranded itself as “Roboburgh” in light of its growing automation and robotics industry.

But what about one of the other core Industry 4.0 technologies: 3D printing?

Welcome to Barcelona, a city that could very well become the additive manufacturing hub of Europe, perhaps even the world. Although 3D printing may not be the first thing one associates with Catalonia, the region is nevertheless well positioned to become a major hub for additive manufacturing.

Barcelona port on the Mediterranean.
Barcelona port on the Mediterranean.

First and foremost, Barcelona is home to the headquarters of HP’s additive manufacturing division, the birthplace of the company’s Multi Jet Fusion (MJF) technology. Additionally, the Catalonia region is already a major hub for chemical manufacturing, crucial for the development of new printable materials.

In fact, Barcelona hosted this year’s World Congress of Chemical Engineering, one of eight events that took place during Barcelona Industry Week, with more than 1,000 companies and 50,000 visitors in attendance. One of these events, IN(3D)USTRY (pronounced “In-three-dustry”), focused specifically on additive manufacturing.

ENGINEERING.com was on the ground in Barcelona. Here’s what we learned.


IN(3D)USTRY – From Needs to Solutions

Experts from the auto industry discuss the future of additive manufacturing. (Image courtesy of Fira Barcelona.)
Experts from the auto industry discuss the future of additive manufacturing. (Image courtesy of Fira Barcelona.)
This was the second annual IN(3D)USTRY event, and quite a lot has changed since the first.

“Last year was a standalone event,” explained Miquel Serrano, director of IN(3D)USTRY. “We actually used it as a catapult for the official launch of HP’s MJF technology, since they’re based here in Barcelona. It was great having such a big player on board, but we want this event to help encourage companies to come here to develop their additive manufacturing technology. HP wants the same thing: to create an ecosystem around them.”

The approach Serrano and his colleagues at Fira Barcelona are taking to achieve that goal is an unusual one, with IN(3D)USTRY as neither congress nor tradeshow, but something in between. 

3D-Printed replica of the Great Lady Offerant. (Image courtesy of the author.)
3D-Printed replica of the Great Lady Offerant. (Image courtesy of the author.)
“We don’t call it a congress or a tradeshow because we don’t want to be categorized as a closed event,” said Serrano. “That’s why we took a kind of TED-Talk approach that’s open for everyone to join and why we have these technology arenas, rather than closed off booths.”

That TED-Talk approach involved bringing multiple experts together to discuss their insights on how additive manufacturing fits into different industries, including aerospace, automotive, medical devices and consumer goods. Each industry session was capped off with a panel discussion, which brought all the experts together on stage. The result was fascinating—it’s not often that you get to see representatives from the European Space Agency (ESA) and Airbus debate the future of additive manufacturing in aerospace.

The event’s technology areas were equally engaging, with displays representing 3D printing in wearables, fashion, archaeology and, of course, industry. Some highlights:

  • A pair of outfits designed to transfer shivers and goosebumps from one person to another via biomonitoring and 3D-printed silicone actuators.
  • A full-size 3D-printed replica of an historical Iberian sculpture called Great Lady Offerant
  • A demo car featuring parts that had been made using additive manufacturing, either directly or indirectly via tooling.
  • A drone made entirely using HP’s MJF technology, with the exception of motors and electronics.


HP, Additive Manufacturing and Barcelona

As the keystone of the inaugural IN(3D)USTRY, HP has a better perspective than most in terms of how much the event has changed in a year. “We introduced the Multi Jet Fusion in Barcelona last year, which was also its European premiere,” said Ramon Pastor, VP and general manager of 3D printing at HP.

Drone made using HP's MJF technology. (Image courtesy of the author.)
Drone made using HP's MJF technology. (Image courtesy of the author.)
“The market has been shifting since then,” Pastor continued. “It used to be that 80-90 percent of the additive manufacturing market was in prototyping, but this has changed tremendously. Since we introduced our technology, more than half our customers are in manufacturing, doing final parts.”

Pastor attended the inaugural IN(3D)USTRY, and provided some insight on the differences a year makes. “Last year was all about 3D printing as a standalone technology,” he said, “which is good, in a way, because it’s more focused—but we’re really trying to transform the entire manufacturing supply chain. That’s why it’s good to see this event put into an industrial context with the other events happening at the same time. It’s much more interesting to us and to our customers.”

3D-printed fashion. (Image courtesy of Fira Barcelona.)
3D-printed fashion. (Image courtesy of Fira Barcelona.)
Regarding Barcelona’s potential as an additive manufacturing hub, Pastor said:

“I think it has many of the components. Just to name a few: Barcelona is known for design, and one of the things additive manufacturing does is give designers the freedom to create geometries that couldn’t have been realized before. The other thing is the availability of education, whether you’re talking about engineering schools, art schools or business schools. In terms of materials, the Port of Tarragona is 100 kilometers from here, and it has one of the biggest refineries in Europe. So, it’s a nice ecosystem whether you’re coming from an engineering perspective, a design perspective or a material perspective.”


Barcelona: The Global Additive Manufacturing Hub?

It’s still too early in the technology’s lifecycle to say for certain whether Barcelona will become a hub for additive manufacturing. It’s also possible that the very idea of a manufacturing hub will be rendered obsolete with the rise of on-demand manufacturing, as production becomes less centralized and more localized. 

Auto parts made using 3D printing. (Image courtesy of Giorgio Mgistrelli.)
Auto parts made using 3D printing. (Image courtesy of Giorgio Mgistrelli.)
Still, if there is going to be a global additive manufacturing hub, the Catalonia region has a lot going for it.

Stay tuned for more insights from this year’s IN(3D)USTRY.

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