Materialise NV

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Materialise NV
Industry3D Printing / Additive Manufacturing
FounderWilfried Vancraen
Area served
Number of employees

Materialise, headquartered in Leuven, Belgium, is active in the field of additive manufacturing, also known as 3D Printing. Materialise NV is one of the largest and most long-established independent companies in the 3D printing / additive manufacturing sector.

The company was founded in July 1990 by Fried (Wilfried) Vancraen, and his wife Hilde Ingelaere in Leuven, Belgium, where its global headquarters are situated today. Materialise operates worldwide with offices, software centres and/or direct manufacturing centers situated in various countries across five continents, providing 3D printing and additive manufacturing services, 3D printing-specific software solutions and medical software, application development and fulfilment.


Materialise was founded in June 1990 by Wilfried Vancraen and his wife Hilde Ingelaere as a Rapid Prototyping service bureau. It was the first company of its kind in the Benelux region of Europe, through the acquisition of a single Stereolithography machine (the SLA 1).[1]

Following its conception, in addition to offering prototyping services, Materialise concentrated on the research and development of software solutions to transfer data to 3D printers. Initially driven by necessity and to facilitate its own success, Materialise focused on developing software to improve the usability of its in-house 3D printer. The early parts produced on the SLA 1 highlighted issues beyond the hardware that needed addressing in terms of digitally transferring data between the digital design medium and the machine itself.

The background of the founders of Materialise (Vancraen and Ingelaere) also fueled the company’s research into specific software solutions for medical applications.

In 1992, Materialise began mapping human anatomy digitally in three dimensions,[2] using sliced CT image data, which lead to the development of its medical image processing software: Mimics. Concurrently, the team was also developing its industrial software solution, Magics. Both of these software solutions were later commercialized as process-neutral solutions for the benefit of a nascent industry and to promote growth.

1995 was the year that Materialise became the first company to produce 3D printed parts [3] in more than one colour, specifically at this time for anatomical models produced using the stereolithography process to delineate the complexities of the anatomy (such as nerves, blood vessels and tumours) and allow surgeons to more precisely plan for operations.

The company developed and produced the first customised 3D printed surgical guide for a dental operation in 1996. These personalised guides were utilised during surgery to show surgeons exactly where they needed to cut and drill the bone to apply implants. This knowledge was used to develop Materialise SimPlant software, allowing the surgeon to virtually plan the surgery and minimize invasive exploratory surgery.

As the Internet found its way into the public consciousness, the company launched one of the first 3D printing online ordering systems in 1997, Materialise NextDay, which later became Materialise OnSite. This service allowed 3D printing service customers to send digital 3D data, which could be printed and shipped the next day.

Demand for prototypes grew exponentially and Materialise customers were demanding much larger prototype parts which could not be met with the limited build volumes capabilities of the 3D printers in the year 2000. Materialise utilized its extensive knowledge of the stereolithography process to develop its proprietary Mammoth Stereolithography systems which are capable of printing single-piece models with dimensions of more than 2 meters in the Y axis.

The year 2000, hearing aid specialist Phonak approached Materialise to develop the Rapid Shell Modeling (RSM) software. This allowed the design process for customized, patient-specific hearing aid shells to become automated. The resulting designs could then be 3D printed to produce the customised hearing aids. This was the very first high volume, end-use application of 3D printing, and today, 99% of the world’s hearing aids are now produced using 3D printing.[4]

Materialise continued its program of growth and expansion with the acquisition of US company Columbia Scientific Inc, (CSI) in 2001, the creators of Sim/Plant and ImageMaster, which became the US headquarters for Materialise’s dental division in that region.[5]

In 2003 Materialise launched one of the first 3D printed consumer brands — .MGX by Materialise — to show that 3D printing could be used for end-use products as well as for prototypes. In parallel, the company also expanded its service division for industrial applications with the acquisition of Fused Deposition Modelling (FDM) systems.

The following year, in 2004, Materialise brought a real step change to 3D printing software with the introduction of its 3-matic software, allowing 3D printer users to edit files directly in the STL format. Previously, if design changes were required in the digital model, designers had to make them in the CAD suite of choice before re-converting the entire file to STL again. In 2006 Materialise launched RapidFit, developed as a 3D printed solution for shipping large parts with customized jigs and fixtures to prevent deformation or breakage while in transit.

On the medical front, 2006 saw Materialise develop the first Titanium 3D printed skull implants, following the acquisition of OBL. OBL specialized in the creation of custom cranio-maxillfacial (CMF) implants, which, when combined with Materialise’s expertise in 3D Printing, produced customized implants with intricate porous structures, that behave like natural bone and mimic its mechanical and thermal properties.[6]

In 2008 Materialise introduced the e-Stage software which was the first software to automatically generate support structures for different geometries in Stereolitography.

In the same year, the company expanded its online service platform to the consumer market with the launch of i.materialise that made it possible for anyone to print their ideas using professional-quality equipment.

This was the year that Materialise also developed its first Build Processor to support running different 3D printing processes more efficiently within a single location. Further software advances were made in 2012 when Materialise introduced Streamics to provide industrial 3D printer users producing end-use parts within regulated industries with traceable quality control capabilities. Materialise went public on June 25, 2014[7] to enable expansion of its services and software development. The same year the company acquired OrthoView,[8] a market leader in orthopaedic digital pre-operative planning software and officially established a new office in China in December with a focus on 3D printing Software and R&D, namely Materialise Shanghai Co. Ltd.[9]

In 2015, the company curated and organized the 3D printing exhibition MAKING A DIFFERENCE / A DIFFERENCE IN MAKING at the BOZAR,[10] in Brussels. The aim was showing the capabilities and potential of the 3D printing technology to a wider public. The event was also the launch pad for new co-created applications, notably Materialise’s first collection of 3D-printed eyewear with Hoet Design Studio. Later in 2015, Materialise received the EN9100 and EASA.21G certifications to operate in the aerospace market,[11] in addition to the ISO 9001 certification already in place.

Further process capability was added to the manufacturing facility in 2016 with the opening of a new and dedicated metal production facility in Bremen, Germany. Materialise HQ, Leuven, also acquired and started testing the multi jet fusion (MJF) process from HP. Production of parts with MJF started in the following year, 2017.

With the expansion of the AM Metal market, Materialise acquired ACTech in Germany to further extend the company’s metal capabilities, with a specific emphasis on low-volume production of highly complex metal parts.[12] The acquisition also enabled Materialise to develop and improve its software suite for metal 3D printing.

2018 saw Materialise receive a significant financial boost, with a US$25 million investment from BASF.[13] As the largest chemical producer in the world, the BASF investment came as the result of a strategic alliance with Materialise to identify and develop new materials. It was also an acknowledgment of the growth potential of the 3D printing industry, and the alliance will build on the combination of Materialise’s software and BASF’s expertise in chemicals to accelerate new business opportunities.


There are three core pillars of the Materialise business operations:

• Materialise Manufacturing (services & application development)

• Materialise Software (3D Printing specific software)

• Materialise Medical

These three core pillars remain interdependent of each other and all focus on realising the benefits of 3D printing and additive manufacturing technologies.

Materialise has offices on five continents. Since 2014, Materialise has been publicly listed on the NASDAQ as MTLS.

Additive Manufacturing Services and Application Development[edit]

From the purchase of a single machine, and therefore a single additive process, Stereolithography, in 1990; Materialise has grown into one of the largest global service providers of 3D printing and additive manufacturing.[14] This service is provided globally across five continents, with offices in Belgium, the USA, UK, Austria, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, India, Italy, Poland, and Sweden. Across its manufacturing centres — located in Belgium (HQ), Poland, the Czech Republic and Germany — Materialise operates 180+ industrial 3D printing systems.

The company has a large installed base of different additive technologies that can process a broad range of materials — both polymer and metal. In-house processes at Materialise: Stereolithography / SLA. Selective Laser Sintering / SLS.[15] (Also referred to as Selective Laser Melting / SLM or Powder Bed Fusion). Fused Deposition Modelling™ / FDM. (Also referred to generically as Fused Filament Fabrication [FFF]). PolyJet™. (Also referred to generically as Material Jetting). Multi-Jet Fusion™ (MJF) (A powder bed process, that combines material jetting and PBF). Direct Metal Laser Sintering (Also referred to as [[Selective Laser Melting [SLM]]] or Metal Laser PBF).


Medical and dental applications feature heavily within the company’s portfolio.[16]

However, Materialise also provides services to and works on application development with companies operating in many other different industries including Automotive,[17] Aerospace,[18][19][20][21] Energy, Consumer Electronics, Architecture, Fashion,[22][23][24] Jewellery,[25][26] and Art.[27]

3D Printing Specific Software[edit]

Materialise 3D printing specific software is commercialised under the MAGICS (Materialise Automated Generation of Interactive Controller of Supports) brand. The approach with the software development was to keep all of the software process-agnostic, so it could be used for any additive processes available on the market. At the end of 2018, Materialise released its 23rd version of Magics. A now annual update of Magics has seen the software evolve into a modular suite of products that goes beyond the original function of preparing and fixing 3D data for 3D printing. Software development centers are now found in Belgium (HQ), the United States, Germany, China, Ukraine and Malaysia.


Since the inception of Materialise, the company’s founders Fried Vancraen and Hilde Ingleaere, have passionately believed in aligning the potential of 3D printing and additive manufacturing with developing applications across the medical sector to improve the tools available to doctors and surgeons, and thus indirectly improve outcomes for patients. Always mindful of the company’s mission to contribute to a healthier world.

The focus on software to drive the first 3D printer in 1990 provided a solid foundation for Materialise’s concurrent solution-focused research into developing specific software for the production of anatomical models from CT image data. This resulted in one of the earliest research projects in medical 3D printing, financed by the EU and coordinated by Materialise.[28]

The commercial realisation of this research in 1992 is the company’s MIMICS (Materialise Interactive Medical Image Control System) software.

The first models to be produced using MIMICS were built by Materialise for UZ Leuven, to replicate and analyse a large bone tumor, called “mimi,” under the EU research project. The first models to be commercially commissioned, however, were for the Centenary Clinic in Antwerp (Dr. Defrancq et al).

The "mimi" model subsequently won the "European Stereolithography Excellence Award" at the European 3D Systems user conference in 1993.[29] As a result, the application was presented at the USA conference in the same year. It was here that Al Dewit, the owner of a SLA service agency in Ann Arbor, MI, USA, found the application so interesting that he initiated talks with Materialise and became the first distributor of the company’s software in the USA.

The first sale of MIMICS software was made to Laserform[30] in 1993, which was looking to produce physical models from CT scan for the MKA department of the hospital in Vienna.

The MIMICS suite has continued to be developed over the years, with modular and very specific additions that have supported the evolution of dental and medical applications 3D printing.

The first Materialise medical 3D printed application produced by Materialise centred around the production of customised anatomical models in the early 1990s. This is still a prolific (and growing) application of 3D printing that provides surgeons with personalised visual representations of their patients’ anatomy that allows for non-invasive diagnostics, and treatment and surgical planning.

By 1997, Materialise was focus its software development and 3D printing capabilities on the production of customised surgical guides.

From there the progress evolved further into the development of customised implants to precisely match patient needs. Dental implants were among the first devices to be produced, with a range of orthopaedic and cranio maxillofacial (CMF) implants.[31]

Since the year 2000, Materialise has been directly involved in the development of implant applications for knees, hips, shoulder, jaws and also contributed its services to the first face transplant in 2011.[32][33][34]

The medical sector, particularly for implant devices, is one that is highly regulated and compliance involves huge amounts of research data and testing. The results of much of Materialise’s research is coming to fruition as the company has increasingly been certified for its software, processes and materials.

In 2016, Materialise announced the first 3D printed titanium maxillofacial implants for the European and Australian markets. In 2017 they received clearance for the U.S. market from the FDA. The implant devices are part of a personalized total solution for orthognathic surgery, also known as corrective jaw surgery, as well as for facial reconstruction. This holistic solution benefits from virtual surgical planning to the 3D-printed implants used in combination with 3D-printed surgical guides.

More recently, in 2018 Materialise received FDA clearance for the use of diagnostic 3D printed anatomical models, the first company in the world to do so. This was based on Materialise’s Mimics inPrint portfolio (3D visualization and print preparation software) being 510k-cleared [35] and available for hospitals seeking to set up 3D printing capabilities at the point-of-care.

Growth and Acquisitions[edit]

Materialise has evolved into a multi-national company through a combination of organic growth and acquisitions of companies that have added value and expertise for all three core pillars of the business. Key acquisitions, listed in chronological order, appear here:

2001: Acquisition of all stocks of Columbia Scientific Inc, (CSI). 2011: Acquisition of Marcam Engineering in Germany.[36] 2014: Acquisition of leading Polish prototyping center, e-Prototypy adding manufacturing facilities in Eastern Europe.[37] October 2014: Acquisition of OrthoView, a market leader in orthopaedic digital pre-operative planning software.[38] December 2014: Started operations of the Materialise Shanghai Co. Ltd., in China, with a 3D printing software and R&D focus. This was achieved with support from Shanghai’s Baoshan Government and the company is entirely dedicated to the Chinese market.[39] March 2015: Acquisition of Belgian-based CENAT, a developer of embedded computing software and solutions for additive manufacturing control systems.[40] Acquisition of Mobelife with a completely customized product development process for patient-specific orthopaedic implants. 2017: Acquisition of ACTech, a German service provider with specific expertise in metal additive manufacturing for highly complex parts.[41] Through September and October 2017 Materialise also expanded its production facilities and office capacity in Belgium and Poland with new buildings.

Global Facilities[edit]


Europe Belgium (HQ), Austria, Czech Republic, France, Germany, India, Italy, Poland, Spain, Sweden, Ukraine, United Kingdom

Americas USA, Colombia and Brazil

Asia & Pacific China, Japan, Malaysia and Australia


The 3D printed "mimi" model, produced as part of the EU funded research project into 3D printing medical digital models, won the "European Stereolithography Excellence Award" at the European 3D Systems user conference in 1993.[42]

In 2011, Materialise CEO Fried Vancraen, was presented with the RTAM/SME Industry Achievement Award.[43][44]

In 2012, Fried Vancraen was voted the most influential person in Additive Manufacturing by industry professionals and TCT Magazine.[45]

CEO, Fried Vancraen was listed as one of the five leading players in his sector by the Financial Times. Fried Vancraen was presented with the 2013 Visionaries! Award from the Museum of Art and Design in New York.[46][47]

2016; Design Flanders honors Materialise with the Henry van de Velde Company Award at the BOZAR, the Center for Fine Arts in Brussels.

On 27 September 2017, Vancraen was inducted into the TCT Hall of Fame in its inaugural year.[48]

Later that year, in December 2017, Vancraen was selected to receive the Additive Manufacturing Users Group (AMUG) Innovators Award.[49]

In 2018, Vancraen received the 3DPI Award for his outstanding contribution to 3D printing.[50]

IP and Patents[edit]

Materialise holds more than 250 current patents, including 160 specifically related to medical applications.[51]

Seven patents were filed last year, and Materialise also expanded its IP portfolio within the global healthcare sector in 2018, when a patent was accepted by the Australian patent office for the company’s 3D planning technologies and 3D-printed guides enabling the desired fixation of personalized implants.

Some of Materialise’s earliest patents are held by the company’s founder and CEO, Fried Vancraen. These are generally related to the technical and medical applications of additive manufacturing and 3D Printing, as well as for Materialise’s Mammoth 3D printers. These include, but are not limited to:

1997 US5595703: Method for supporting an object made by means of stereolithography or another rapid prototype production method.[52]

1998 US5768134: Method for making a perfected medical model on the basis of digital image information of a part of the body.[53]

2001 EP928242A1: Method and device for making a three-dimensional object from a hardenable liquid medium.[54]

2008 EP1307317B1: Method for manufacturing a supporting and/or reference construction.[55]

See also[edit]


  1. ^
  2. ^ Rapid Prototyping Casebook, Julia A McDonald, Chris J Ryall, David I Wimpenny. One of the earliest research projects in medical 3D printing, financed by the EU and coordinated by Materialise:
  3. ^ "European Stereolithography Excellence Award" at the European 3D Systems user conference in 1993.
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  6. ^ Hoang, D; Perrault, D; Stevanovic, M; Ghiassi, A (2016). "Surgical applications of three-dimensional printing: a review of the current literature & how to get started". Ann Transl Med. 4: 456. doi:10.21037/atm.2016.12.18. PMC 5220021. PMID 28090512.
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  14. ^ Top 3D Printing Companies, Investing News:
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  16. ^ Tech News Store, "3D Printed Medical Device Market: Analysis and Forecast.
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  18. ^ Airbus News Room
  19. ^ Airbus News Room
  20. ^ Aerospace Manufacturing & Design Magazine
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