Deep in the forests of Bavaria, in the building where once stood the printing presses of the newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, is one of the largest factories of 3D printers in the world. Late winter morning in the giant room is quiet — workers install the lasers and the wiring in the machines taller than a man and wider than the Desk. When the Assembly is completed, the printers can produce everything from missile parts to the femoral implant. Factory area of 9300 sq m is not filled even half, and at full capacity will produce up to 1000 printers per year.

Responsible for all of this 67-year-old Hans Langer, one of the pioneers of the industry of 3D printing, who 30 years ago founded the company EOS GmbH. “I just saw that we can transform the industry,” says Langer in an interview with Forbes in a spacious and modern headquarters EOS near Munich.

Printers for airplanes

The revolution of 3D printing, which experts predicted a few years ago, hasn’t happened yet. Printers are in every home and on every Desk. One of the largest public manufacturers of 3D printers with a market capitalization of $1.3 billion, 3D Systems fell in value by 85% since January 2014, when the stock price reached a record $97 apiece. Now one paper is trading at around $11.

But while consumer demand and limited production version of the technology is booming. Huge companies like Boeing and Zimmer Biomet, a manufacturer of medical equipment, are increasingly using 3D printers to redesign products and components to make them easier and more ergonomic. This year the sales of industrial 3D printers could reach $11.7 billion — more than double the same indicator 2015, from the data of the research company Wohlers Associates. In its forecast, to 2023-th market can grow twice — to $27.3 billion

The details that print 3D printers, today can be not less durable and functional than the usual industrial products that seem to be more reliable. Printing, for example, allows to reduce the weight of aircraft to increase their energy efficiency and reduce environmental impact, and produce joint implants, which weigh less and allow the bones to fill in the holes in the metal.

Langer EOS perfectly positioned to meet this demand. He was one of the first to believe that 3D printing can be used not only for prototyping, one of the first areas in the industry. As a result, today the EOS spacecraft, the price of which starts from $1.6 million, fill the shops of Boeing, BMW and Siemens. It all makes sense. At EOS Group (which includes EOS GmbH, and the associated business unit) sales volume is $400 million and continues to grow, and profitability is greater than 10% — and this at a time when many competitors are on the verge of ruin. In addition to the business of 3D printing, Langer has created an ecosystem of companies in related industries, such as laser coating and laser scanning. Diversification and creates opportunities for further growth of the entire group.

Industrial production is not as glamorous as the creation of consumer goods, but Langer earned first on 3D printing $1 trillion Today his fortune is estimated at $2.6 billion EOS Group is wholly owned by the businessman and his family. “He created a great company, says John Dulchinos, Vice President of division of digital production and 3D printing Jabil, a contract manufacturer partner EOS. — He is a talented entrepreneur, and he owns one of the few effective companies on the market.”

EOS at the peak of success, but faces increased competition, and from the well-established giants like GE and HP, and revolutionary start-UPS, such as “unicorn” Desktop Metal. Langer, a quiet gray-haired man feeding a weakness for neck scarves, claims that his company can increase revenue tenfold in the next ten years. Despite the fact that he prefers not to talk about money, and not to mention his fortune, entrepreneur, obviously proud of the results EOS. “Most people don’t understand the potential of the industry, explains Langer. — It’s not about printers. The case in digital effect that starts with the software.”

From physics to sellers

Langer grew up in Bavaria, where his father owned a small business and in his spare time trained pilots of light aircraft — gliders. At the age of 14 made his first solo flight and Hans. He liked the silence of the sky (“a special experience absolute silence, and you fly over the glaciers”), and he was interested in the aerodynamics of aircraft.

Later, Langer received his Ph. D. at the University of Munich LMU and continued research at the Institute of plasma physics max Planck, specializing in lasers. He thought he would become a scientist, but a teacher convinced him that to achieve better results in the industry. In 1981 Langer joined the pioneer laser industry Baselu Karl, the founder of Carl Baasel Lasertechnik. The young specialist received the status of an eleventh employee.

He quickly discovered his talent for sales. “Always ask, “why?” — Langer explains their principles. — If you have a buyer — why?” At first the negotiations with the Professor of the nuclear research Center in Karlsruhe, he sold not only the machine cost $5000, but the entire laser system as a whole. And for three months — performed in annual sales.

The success of Langer in Baasel attracted the attention of management General Scanning. In 1985, he headed the European division of the American company, dominated the market for laser scanning devices.

3D printing was then in its infancy. Chuck hull of 3D Systems, invented stereolithography — a method of 3D printing that is based on the use of photopolymers for rapid prototyping layers. The first patent application he filed in 1984. Langer immediately realized, that parts created with this method can be designed in configurations that are unavailable to traditional production technologies. He deepened the patents on 3D printing until the 1950-ies, and began to communicate a lot with other clients General Scanning, investigated technology.

Then Langer invited the employer to create its own division of 3D-printing. The structure was to get the name of EOS, an acronym for Electro Optical Systems. But the Board of Directors of General Scanning refused: they found the project too risky because of possible patent claims.

A prototype for BMW
Langer did not accept this decision. In 1989, the 36-year-old Manager, at that time already the father of two children, resigned from General Scanning, and convinced that the project is successful, invested $50 000 savings in a private business company EOS. However, prudently gave half the family home to his wife Helle — in the event of failure. Today, the billionaire says that he felt a euphoria about the potential of technology, but remained naive: “I kept saying, “It’s better than Apple!”

Soon, Langer found a business angel in the person of another enthusiast industry of Strategy Falk, who in 1981 sold the company Laser Optronic American competitor, public Coherent, and was looking for investment opportunities. Strateg and, at 78, the remaining one of the leading European investors have invested in the EOS $500 000 at the stage of seed financing.

Langer listened to the advice of Strategy to start small: the first EOS product was a simple device that could scan physical objects and create three-dimensional digital model. Langer brought a new scanner at the industrial exhibition, where he attracted the scouts of the BMW. The automaker became the first buyer — fines for its budget, but a big deal for the founder of EOS.

According to Langer, BMW then tested the new 3D printers from 3D Systems and wanted to adjust their technical characteristics, but could not force the American company to change the configuration (BMW and 3D Systems declined to comment). The founder of EOS pounced on the opportunity. He asked a friend in the BMW, would the company have to provide a Deposit of 50% of the budget to develop a 3D printer during the year. “My friend said, “But you can’t do it. You don’t have people, you have nothing even drawing“. I said, “This is a bet. We do nothing,“ recalls Langer.

Despite the skepticism, a friend of the businessman presented the idea to the leadership of BMW and the company, which was one of the first to use the technology of 3D printing and manufactured in such a way over a million parts over the last ten years, agreed. Langer released his first 3D printer. But after three years, the revenue EOS reached $6 million
Business Langer grew up, but soon the forecast come true General Scanning: in 1993, 3D Systems, EOS has filed a lawsuit for patent infringement. Not to splurge on litigation, Langer and Strateg were forced to sell 75% of the business of the German optical company Carl Zeiss. The founder of EOS has retained the remaining 25%. The new shareholder ventured to assume the costs of lawyers with the dream of turning the company Langer in a business worth $100 million
The deal allowed Langer to move beyond prototyping and to start working on polymer and metal powders for details. In 1994, EOS began to produce 3D-printers based on laser sintering, in which the lasers to selectively melt the shredded material to create parts from scratch. Now this technology is the core business of EOS.

For four years, Langer worked for Carl Zeiss, panting in the formal corporate culture of the company, and fought with the patent claims. In 1997, when his partners are faced with their own financial difficulties, the founder of EOS bought the business. He soon entered into a license agreement with 3D Systems, having the right to laser sintering (however, this was followed by a new patent lawsuits when EOS have claimed Texas startup DTM, which was later acquired by 3D Systems; a web of litigation it was finally unwound in February 2004). Langer was happy to get right to what he thought was the perfect technology for full-scale production, not just prototyping.

Revolutionary atomizer

Made on a 3D printer plastic prototypes is relatively easy, but the release of these details — a task more difficult. In 2015, GE Aviation made a breakthrough, 3D printing in complete fuel injector. Developed on the EOS equipment, the nozzle was intact, and not of twenty parts, and its weight has been reduced by 25%. According to Glenn Fletcher, President of the North American division EOS for 3D printing “fuel injector — a symbol of success.”

After a year, GE, inspired by the success, posted $1.4 bn in two European manufacturers of 3D printers. First of the American group were associated with EOS, which was much larger than the absorbed companies. According to sources in the industry, GE suggested the Langer more than $2 billion, perhaps much more. But Langer, who leads a modest life in the house that he and his wife bought in the 1980s, and drives a Volkswagen Golf four years ago, was denied, as was denied many other generous “merchants”. “I talked to the kids and asked, “Why would we do that? Why? We have enough money. We have everything“, — says the businessman.

Two years later at the age of 65 years Langer resigned as CEO of EOS GmbH, the main company in the EOS Group, giving way to a 54-year-old Adrian Keppler, a former top Manager of Siemens, who worked in strategic and marketing units EOS. But the founder of EOS remains at the same position in the holding company and continues to set ambitious goals. “He’s very ambitious and thinks, says Keppler. — Well, my business is cut into “scales” into pieces and implement them.”

Among the EOS customers to the largest industrial companies in the world — Boeing, Siemens, Lockheed Martin, BMW and others. ArianeGroup, a joint venture between Airbus and Safran, a French missile, used printers EOS to redesign the head combustion chamber rocket engine (one of the key elements in modular Bay, which supplies fuel to a chamber). The number of parts was reduced from 248 to one, and the production time — from three months to 35 hours. Ruag, a Swiss supplier of products for rocketry, using the EOS changed the bracket design in the satellite Sentinel. Printed from aluminum alloy item weighed 40% less, but its strength increased. “Be a possible change in design, of which we never dreamed of five years ago,” says Peter Adams, President of Burloak Technologies, contract manufacturer of 3D products, setting seven vehicles on EOS the new factory with an investment of $100 million

3D printers EOS accurate enough for use in sectors subject to special regulation, such as aircraft and medicine. But competition in industrial 3D printing is growing, especially in the field of printing from metal. “Many would like to get a system like EOS or Concept Laser [GE], but it’s too expensive,” says Rick Fulop, CEO Desktop Metal. The company says its equipment is much faster and cheaper than laser technology EOS. Increased competition is likely to lead to the reform of the market when different equipment is used for different projects. For example, a contract manufacturer Jabil purchased a 3D printer industrial design at the same time, EOS, HP Desktop and Metal. “You can contact EOS for the creation of a critical item to another manufacturer for the rest of the parts,” explains Pete Basilier, Vice President for research at Gartner.

Langer and Keppler hope to win thanks like the EOS innovations and a new consulting unit. One of the shameful secrets of this business is that companies spend millions on 3D printers, and then not know what to do with them to recoup investments. Others know they need a strategy for 3D printing, but I did not understand what to do. In one project EOS advised EvoBus, Europe’s largest manufacturer of buses, included in the Daimler Group to find out how 3D printing could help the company to cope with 320 000 spare parts in stock. Is it possible to reverse engineer the details or print them as needed? First EOS helped EvoBus choose 2600 products that could be printed, and then took 35 of them to check. EvoBus is now working to print these details only when they are needed for repair.

In the headquarters of EOS, the building with the curved aluminum panels that look like printed on a 3D printer (design solution Langer) work 100 3D printers, placed in a closed laboratory near the lobby. According to top managers EOS, nowhere in the world is no longer such a number of devices collected in one place. The company uses this hidden lab to test parts for customers and to find new ideas.

At the industrial exhibition in Chicago in September 2018 EOS introduced a series of printers metal with more powerful lasers and the ability to choose the number of used lasers. In November in Frankfurt, the company showed the new technology polymer printing, which employs one million diode lasers to accelerate production. Potentially, this will give the metal different properties in a single part. This will open up new design possibilities and expand the boundaries of functionality and efficiency. “So, you can create missiles of a new model, which the industry waited so long” — dreams of Langer.

Princes 3D-Empire

Within the ecosystem, developed by Langer, there are many other important businesses, in addition to 3D printing. Thus, the company Scanlab was founded in 1990 and controlled by the EOS Group, manufactures scanning system to reflect and accommodate laser beams in three dimensions. These systems are placed in 3D printers EOS and its competitors, as well as other industrial products. Annual revenues Scanlab and related companies exceeds $170 million More in one direction meets AM Ventures, venture capital Fund, which owns minority stakes in twenty start-UPS in the field of 3D printing. With each new investment the EOS receives sales and marketing rights to the technology. Among such projects — Dye Mansion, which is engaged in high-precision colour processing and 3D products.

In the past three years, Langer was thinking about finding a successor, and discussed with the 35-year-old son Uli, a physicist, and a 32-year-old daughter Marie, a psychologist, what positions they could occupy in the business. The dialogue developed, he invited Michael Borda, a Jesuit priest, who heads the Institute of philosophy and leadership at the Munich school of philosophy. Bord, author of numerous books, including “Art to disappoint parents,” worked with other wealthy European families on the transfer of business. Intensive program of training based on meditation and helps people to understand their motives. Bordt only works with owners who are willing to accept the rejection of children. “We are trying to understand the inner motives, emotions and wounds. Sometimes children don’t believe that saying “no” is fine, because the parents are disappointed,” explains the consultant.

In September, Uli and Marie (they refused to be interviewed for this article) began to study my father, to attend meetings with him and learn about all aspects of business. Over the next six months they will occupy senior positions in family-owned companies.

Despite the fact that Langer would have accepted their decision not to participate in the family business, he was clearly glad that the children realise what he believed in for the last thirty years: the impact of 3D printing will be noticeable far beyond the factories. “When the kids first asked me: “Why would we do that?”, I said, “Because you can change the world,” says the billionaire.

Read more •••


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here