3D printing or additive manufacturing is a process of making three dimensional solid objects of any shape from an existing digital model. The additive process of 3D printing indicates successive layers of material laid upon each other to form the desired shape. 3D printing is quite a refreshing change from the traditional machining technique which relies mostly on removal of material by cutting or drilling, also known as the subtractive process.
The term additive manufacturing refers to the technology that creates objects through sequential layering. The 3D printing technology is used for both prototyping and distributed manufacturing with applications in architecture, construction (AEC), industrial design, automotive, aerospace, military, engineering, civil engineering, dental and medical industries, biotech (human tissue replacement),fashion, footwear, jewellery, eye wear, education, geographic information systems, food, and many other fields.
PatSeer which is smartly designed to sort, filter, create and analyze reports can be used to create queries to search and obtain records with respect to 3D printing. The following search query was created to sort 3D printing across various segments.
1) TAC: Title, Abstract, Claims
2) TACD: Title, Abstract, Claims, Description
3) IC: International class
4) CPC: Cooperative Patent Classification
These queries are directed to search through Title, abstracts and claims. The individuals are then collapsed into one publication per family which is then exported from PatSeer and then imported to Patent iNSIGHT Pro.
In the search query shown in ( Fig 1 ), result set of 2863 records were imported into the software.
After the result sets were obtained, the few discrepancies such as unwanted and confusing terms were eliminated to arrive at a result set of 2635 records which formed the base for further analysis.
The elimination process involved removing all files with filling dates before 1990; irrelevant words like 3D colours and printing of 3D images were removed to create a very relevant and acute database.
To analyze patents under 3D printing they are categorized under 3 broader categories mostly by technology, by material and by industry as shown in the image below.
What was the publication trend in 3D printing?
Once the patents were populated in Patent iNSIGHT Pro, the publication trend chart was generated on a single click using the dashboard tool. Innovation in 3D printing and its resulting patent publications started to show up from the 1990s with the real surge in the activity around this technology happening in the last 5 years. It’s clear the current activity around these technologies is likely to continue seeing more innovation in the near future.
The trends can be pictorially depicted in the image given below:
Top Companies in 3D printing:
The following methodology was adopted to determine the leading names in the domain of 3D printing. Once the patents were populated in Patent iNSIGHT Pro, the assignee clean- up tools were used to normalize the names. Different cleanup tools were leveraged:
• To locate assignees for unassigned records
• To clean up records having multiple assignees
• To locate the correct assignee names for US records using the US assignments database
• To merge assignees that resulted from a merger or acquisition or name change.
The dashboard tool within Patent iNSIGHT Pro was used to find the top 20 assignees within the given patent set. A visual graph was created based on the results of the top assignees with the number of patents alongside each one.
Company activities across technology:
1) The chart below shows research activity of companies across different technologies
2) Stratasys being the pioneers in Fused Deposition Modelling (FDM) have the highest
number of records in FDM
3) Materialise also has a large research portfolio in FDM
How was the result obtained?
First various technologies were identified by manual research. Then by using a combination of semantic analysis tools such as clustering tools and searching tools available in Patent iNSIGHT Pro, records were categorized under different technologies. A co-occurrence matrix was generated using the co-occurrence analyzer to map the different technologies with assignees. The matrix was filtered for the top 15 assignees and was converted into bubble chart using the option provided in software for the same.
Landscape for technologies used for 3D printing
A patent landscape analysis will helps in gaining an overview of a technology sector, competitors and chronological developments in a particular field of technology.
In addition, it can also help you to better evaluate the economic value of a patent portfolio.
A patent landscape analysis helps in identifying the following:
- The current trends in focus of companies, industries and countries
- Technology leaders and their IP strategies and their business decisions
- Technological positioning of companies and their chronological changes
- Unique selling points of companies
- Strengths and weaknesses of patent portfolios
The contour map below represents different materials used for the production of 3D objects with respect to complete patent portfolio. Clusters for Stereolithography and photolithography are close to each other as there is high degree of relevance between the records present in those technology areas. The patents represented by dots were coloured by company.
The VizMAP tool of patent iNSIGHT Pro is used for this purpose. First the clusters for different materials were loaded on the map. They were analyzed on basis of their contextual similarity using title, abstract and claims as Text and technology as UDC from the ‘Context mode’ option. We removed unrelated patents using the “Hide Unrelated records” option and one patent assignee using the options available in VizMAP.
The detailed report on patent landscaping can be downloaded from here : Patent Landscaping – 3D printing download
Slideshare presentation can be obtained here : Patent Landscaping Slideshare.