Xavier Martínez (Sant Boi de Llobregat, 1985) is an industrial engineer and CEO of the Catalan label Barcelona Three Dimensional Printers Technologies-BCN3D, one of the world’s leading developers and manufacturers of 3D printing solutions. He considers that his professional career began in college, when he became involved in the Formula Student project in Barcelona, which designs, manufactures and races a racing car. He joined the project in 2008 as a member of the team and ended up being the team leader. From that experience he made the leap to the technology center foundation CIM-UPC, where he started the BCN3D project. The technology developed by BCN3D is used by companies such as BMW, Seat, NASA, MIT in Boston, Camper or the Hospital San Juan de Dios in Barcelona. A Espai.Mèdia, Martinez explains how BCN3D has become one in the world of 3D printing.
Young, but more than prepared. How do you assume the role of CEO of the company?
It is a very young sector. In 2013 there was the boom of having a 3D printing machine at home, who caught us inside we were very young people. We were “the 3D crazies” and that I am the CEO of a company in this sector is a consequence of that period of time and also because at the time they let me reach more functionalities instead of a senior person.
How was the BCN3D project born?
BCN3D was born in the technology center CIM-UPC, linked to the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya, with the aim of developing various manufacturing techniques among which 3D printing stands out. In 2012 we started a small business unit dedicated to sell small 3D printing machines. Subsequently, we generated our own product and started selling worldwide. This commercial success encouraged us to constitute, seven years later, BCN3D as a technology company in a truly innovative sector.
What is the value of the fact that the project was born in an academic space?
From the beginning, we enjoyed a freedom that we probably would not have had if we had been a company. Being at a university gave us freedom at key moments to do different things. Also, we came from a university environment and didn’t have the pressure of daily turnover. Being at university gave us the flexibility to do new things and, above all, to make mistakes.
What are the professional profiles that are part of BCN3D?
There is a part that we are engineers, but we design, manufacture and come all over the world, so we have profiles of all kinds. We have engineers, manufacturing and operations profiles, marketing profiles, sales profiles and all the support such as human resources and finance. It is an enormously complex company where we work with a hundred professionals.
BCN3D’s headquarters are in Gava. Was the choice made by chance?
When we made the name change in 2015, it coincided that we could not fit in the center. Then the UPC offered us the Parc del Mediterrani, in the Olympic Canal of Castelldefels where we stayed until 2020. During these years most of us were rooted in Gavà and Castelldefels. When we thought it was time to have our own physical headquarters, we chose Gavà because it suited our needs. We did not do it with a specific purpose, but it was convenient, because we were rooted in the area and making a change to Barcelona did not make much sense. With a bit of continuity, we settled in Gava.
Why is 3D printing relevant right now?
Historically, 3D printing has been used to prototype and make parts for products that you will want to mass produce in the future and see what they look like and correct them. Lately, the demand for tooling production has risen sharply. It is now moving towards taking 3D printing and its virtues to possible mass customization and you can choose what you want in each product and what finishes you want. What used to be a single disposable part is now being taken to mass customization and can end up in a specific product. In recent years, the emergence of new technologies related to 3D printing has been spectacular. Even so, the next step will be that of small productions.
Companies that need to produce short series of products can use 3D printing to streamline their production systems and not depend on suppliers that sometimes come from other countries. If this is achieved, we will be able to witness a real revolution where relatively small companies will be able to have a larger production capacity in a very short time and position their products in a similar way to large corporations.
What are the advantages of 3D printing?
They are numerous. In addition to its versatility and speed, it allows a cost reduction in the whole process. Our printers are characterized for being robust, efficient, versatile and adaptable to every demand because, above all, they have to meet the needs of individuals and companies that want to obtain very different objects and products. In addition, they have a very intuitive user interface and software that facilitate the needs of each customer and make us competitive in the market. 3D printing converts conceptual ideas into functional prototypes in a few days and at a lower cost.
In which sectors has 3D technology been best adapted?
The automotive industry is taking steps to try to have 3D printed parts in many models. But also the health sector, there are success stories that corroborate this. In recent years, from BCN3D we have expanded the portfolio of printers to adapt to the designs and products demanded in sectors as diverse as manufacturing, education, health, industrial design and construction, among others.
How does 3D printing fit into surgery?
Especially in oncology cases, intricate and complex surgical procedures are required, and physicians often have to move around and even into vital organs. Preoperative surgical planning provides them with a basis from which to plan access routes and get a better idea of the step-by-step process. This also makes it possible to anticipate complications that may arise. The combination of X-ray and 3D printing technology allows physicians to use scans of the patient to produce a virtual model of the area of interest. This model can then be printed according to the actual dimensions and measurement.
In the midst of the pandemic, BCN3D contributed its most supportive side.
BCN3D selflessly produced and distributed more than 4,200 pieces of protective equipment, including 3D printed visors, which were adopted by a wide range of healthcare professionals in more than 50 medical centers across Europe. In the field of healthcare, 3D printing is also revolutionizing modern medicine by making it possible to recreate replicas of organs and bones in the body with great precision.One of the company’s hallmarks is IDEX technology. What is it based on?
It is based on the use of two independent heads simultaneously in duplicate mode and a mirror allow to double the production and, therefore, significantly increase productivity, compared to conventional desktop 3D printers. IDEX technology makes us different from the rest. Of the different technologies we have developed, IDEX has been one of the most important milestones for us.
Lately, they are developing a new technology: Viscous Lithography Manufacturing, known as VLM.
It is a technology and feels as humble as possible that will have a strong impact on 3D technology. It is a new 3D printing technology with high viscosity resin to allow industries to gain autonomy in their manufacturing processes. At the moment we only have the technology and we are moving towards having a product of this technology. BCN3D tries to promote what we call manufacturing autonomy, that companies are able to manufacture their own products. It is a long-term vision and we have two strategies to make it possible: CDM machines as the most accessible machines to have manufacturing within your company and the second is VLM, which is more industrial and can also make large runs, as SEAT already does. We want people to feel empowered to manufacture their own products.
For some time now, they have been firmly committed to internationalization. Proof of this has been to have a logistics center in New Jersey, in the United States.
We have always worked with the United States. North America represents 33% of the 3D business worldwide and we had 20% of all production, so the potential for growth there was very evident. There has been one aspect that has had an influence, which has been the pandemic, and that is the increase in the cost of logistics. We used to send the machinery directly, but this was very inefficient. With the pandemic, costs increased and that was the last push that made us work to have a logistics center there.
What has it meant to have a plant on North American soil?
Really good. We have been able to open new distributors, because they have more access to machinery, the culture of the United States is not as local as the European one and it helps us a lot. We are still on the ramp, until the end of the year we will not have the plastering capacity and the procedures, but we are quite happy.
They have produced for different companies, including NASA. How do they get there?
NASA is very confidential about its subjects. We sell machines to distributors and we have many customers who are not ours, but theirs, and they tell us the stories behind them. In the case of NASA, these are issues that we handle discreetly. We have no idea what is done with them, but we have machines in many other companies that we do know where they go.
What is Catalonia’s approach to 3D printing?
From the manufacturers’ point of view, it is in a sweet moment, because HP decided to set up in Catalonia and has made a lot of people here know what 3D is all about. But, on the other hand, Catalan companies do not have a greater predilection to use 3D than any other country. In Catalonia, 3D printing is in a process of maturing from the bestial growth of the past decade, and now we are the ones who are under pressure to demonstrate what we said would happen. It is normal that the institutions are a little confused and leave us more alone because there are much greedy technologies, but on a European scale, everything goes through 3D printing.
How far can 3D technology go in the world?
The pandemic has caused manufacturing to be less massive, more local and sustainable. And here 3D printing has a lot to say because it is able to manufacture at a similar price having it close to home is fantastic.
Will 3D printing reach home use?
My perspective is that if we understand as domestic that my mother prints things home, this will not happen, or it is very difficult to happen. So far there have been a lot of failed projects. I believe that in the future there will be startups or very small activities capable of having a relatively large print run by putting 3D printers. The evolution of many technologies is not in the invention, but in their accessibility. In this sense, 3D printing will sooner or later take this kind of direction.