FAME Blog: Ecosystems and 3D objects of the future

We can’t know what the future looks like, but we know what it’s supposed to look like. Science fiction and other instances, when we have tried to foresee or imagine the future, have produced a plentiful visual catalogue of the years ahead of us. Much of such a visual world can be characterized as futuristic, when the overriding glue and focus of presentation is that what is being presented depicts the future. Or is the Future.

Metal 3D printed alignment tool. Image via Wärtsilä.

When Johannes Karjalainen, the lead of FAME (Finnish Additive Manufacturing Ecosystem), showed me topology optimized machine components, they struck me as futuristic more than anything else. It was easier to imagine those in Alien the film or some other Hollywood blockbuster than in a factory of the 2020s. Making old or incrementally improved technology look like technology of the next generation is an old trick, but this wasn’t the case here.

I learnt that 3D printing has made totally new designs and manufacturing techniques possible. The lean curves and intricate shapes that I saw were functional, but such solutions hadn’t been possible before. As 3D printing is a vast field and its solutions can be used for a number of cases and applications, designers need to be able to incorporate those opportunities into their work. In a larger scale, strategic direction, suitable competencies and the right business models are needed to take the full benefit of the opportunities of additive manufacturing. Usually, such development takes place in networks that are called ecosystems.

FAME is a truly industry-driven, open ecosystem, led by DIMECC Ltd, a seasoned and strong high-tech ecosystem facilitator itself. It has been very educational to see how the companies in FAME approach and tackle their shared challenges together. I have seen only a glimpse of what is going on inside the ecosystem, but the most interesting part for me is how co-creational and open the spirit among the ecosystem members is. It is as if life had been breathed into what is meant by ecosystems in various reports and government documents.

Ecosystems are indispensable to sustainable growth

And there has been exactly a paucity of such papers in the past years. In  PM Marin’s Government programme of 2019 international billion-euro ecosystems drive sustainable growth and provide solutions to global development challenges. The strengths of regions and cities, too, are to be harnessed through multi-regional and multi-sectoral ecosystems. All this is linked to Finland’s expenditure-to-GDP ratio for research, development and innovation, which is currently about 2.8 percent, against a target of 4 per cent by 2030. A major tool for reaching the target is the new National Roadmap for Research, Development and Innovation, where building a new partnership model, including larger and better ecosystems, is one of the three major targets. Investing in key ecosystems is a crucial measure also in the fresh report by the working group on sustainable growth.

3D printing and FAME are part of this bigger picture. Additive manufacturing is a field, which has proven its potential, but where there is still a lot to gain in turning research competence into innovations and their utilization. A determined and agile network can increase its aggregate weight internationally and punch above its weight, too. Furthermore, we need to develop how ecosystems function now and after the COVID-19 epidemic. It is challenging to evaluate and measure the impact of innovation ecosystems, but it is necessary as well. That is why a new Government research project about the topic has been launched.

Dedicated and challenge-driven ecosystems like FAME can show what kind of networks create innovations and value in the 2020s. And in the case of FAME, they have also 3D objects of the future to show.

Lasse Laitinen 

Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment