The Promised Land of 3D Printing?


Israel has been on the hi-tech map for over a decade now and its reputation as a dynamic powerhouse in the tech domain was strengthened in recent years after US giants such as Facebook, Apple and Google opened up R&D centers across the country.


The rise of global 3D printing ventures has made Israel one of the leading hubs in the field of additivemanufacturing, 3D printing and its many subsections.


Stratasys, 3D Systems and the Israeli Connection


Few people outside of the industry know that Stratasys, manufacturer of high-end 3D printers and 3D production systems for mid-size and large companies, is largely an Israeli operation after it merged with Objet Geometries. Following the merger, David Reis, then CEO of Objet, soon after became the CEO of Stratasys.


The company now has dual headquarters in Israel and the US. Interestingly, the two largest global 3D printer manufactures both have Israeli CEO’s. Stratasys’ CEO David Reiss is Israeli as is Avi Reichental, the CEO of 3D Systems. In 2012 Stratasys’ market share was 10% and in 2015 it’s projected to be 21%. This is largely due to the company’s purchasing of Makerbot, a household name for consumer and desktop market segments.


The acquisition meant that Stratasys now had a foothold on both the industrial and desktop printer markets. Steve Heller at the Motley Fool put together an interesting graph illustrating the combined dominance of Stratasys and 3D Systems. In 2012 the combined revenue share was 26% whereas in 2015 it is projected to be almost 50%.


3D Printing Through Education


In addition to the more well-known and established players such as Stratasys, new 3D printing ventures are popping up all over Israel. One of the more promising and exciting players is the Cross-Lab Network (XLN) project founded by the Reut Institute. The purpose of the project is to “place Israel at the forefront of the emerging ‘self-manufacturing revolution’ which gives digital fabrication technologies such as 3D printers the potential to empower individuals, turning them in addition to being consumers to becoming potential manufacturers. ”


The project is spearheaded by Roy Keidar, the CEO of XLN, and two young makers, Sefi Atias and Matan Harel. According to XLN’s website, the main purpose of the venture is to empower Israel’s maker communities and to expand the public’s knowledge of new technologies through institutions, such as schools, colleges, universities, the IDF, and other large institutions.


I asked Keidar why Israel is punching way above its weight in hi-tech and specifically in 3D printing.


“There is no measurement that indicates Israel’s exact role in the industry, but certainly Israel carries some advantages. When we break down the components that affect the industry we see that the market in Israel is fairly strong in most of them: Design – Israeli designers are creative and agile, always looking to push the envelope; Machines – Despite the small size of the Israeli market, there is quite a bit of technological knowledge and experience gained over the years, due to companies like Stratasys and a growing eco-system of engineers and scientists; Materials – academia in Israel is working in collaboration with corporations on developing new materials with different qualities to improve production of goods; Software and Products – are commonly shared among other ways through the use of open source vehicles utilizing the advantage of Israel’s lack of size and connectivity,” Keidar speculated.


As with most industries, the Israeli government is lagging behind when it comes to embracing 3D printing. Keidar believes that the industry needs the government to better facilitate the introduction of new innovations in the 3D printing space. “All together – Israel is best suited to be a dominant factor in this field in terms of its market capabilities, but needs much more government involvement for it to be able to assume a leading role among the world,” Keidar believes.


One of the reasons why Israel is ahead of the curve might be pure necessity. Hostile environment, lack of natural resources (excluding recent gas discoveries in the Levant) and precarious political landscape internationally have forced Israel to develop its industries without over-reliance on external providers such as the US or EU.


Where’s the Government?


Keidar, however, doesn’t believe that 3D printing is a solution to all of Israel’s demands, but admits that the Israeli government could do a lot more, specifically in the 3D printing space, to make the country less dependent on foreign goods and services.


“I don’t see any Israeli macro policy in this area coming from the government in order to help the country be less dependent on foreign goods. It is important to note that 3D printing will not substitute mass production and the latter will still be the source for most goods and services…Israeli interests should lie where technology can give you the edge for innovation, improvement of production, services, processes and quality over quantity.”


In other words, for Israel to continue its meteoric rise in the 3D printing industry, the government must activate itself to capitalize on the potential the technology offers. The bustling private sector is succeeding, why wouldn’t the government? Keidar’s XLN is looking for the government to partner with it to bring 3D printing to schools and to educate and cultivate Israel’s talented youth to become the makers and manufactures of tomorrow. Regardless of Keidar’s complaints about the country’s lethargic government, Israeli private sector is leading the way in the number of global 3D printing ventures. I don’t have the data to back up such a claim, but if Israel’s standing in other hi-tech industries is any indication, it can’t be too far from the truth.


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