by Sam O'Leary | January 11, 2022 | Open Architecture

If a thousand chefs make a dish as simple as Spaghetti al Pomodoro, why would only a few of them be world-class, and why would only one of them be worthy of a Michelin star? Simply put, they put their own spin on a base of pre-defined excellence using their unique (and often secret) recipe along with premium and reliable equipment. When I talk about “putting a spin on it,” I am talking about personalisation and modification, in other words: open architecture. And in the additive manufacturing (AM) kitchen, its approach drives creativity and innovation, but most of all, it allows our customers to be more successful.

Open Architecture and SLM Solutions

First and foremost, open architecture is a business philosophy for SLM Solutions. It’s not some BS marketing jargon, and it’s definitely not just a software term. Knowing what we know about how it results in greater business individuality drives what we do – so much that it became a part of our DNA.

The case for being open:

  • At its core, it’s about making our customers more successful
  • It’s about delivering the future. Driving the actual industrialisation and democratisation of additive manufacturing by enabling advancements in technology at a faster rate
  • It’s about creating choice for our customers and removing arrogance – we’re not a jack of all trades but a true master of one. We acknowledge that others can add additional value
  • It’s a personal passion of mine: It fosters innovation at SLM Solutions and beyond

The amazingly talented team at SLM works every day to design and deliver outstanding technology that makes life better, easier and more modern. That work could result in the components in the car, bus, train, or plane that took you to the office today. It could be the ring on your finger or the hip implant helping you live a better life. It could even be one of the enablers for your future trip to space. One thing is consistent across everything that we do – our philosophy of open architecture is a fundamental enabler to our customers who deliver all of these outcomes. Because let’s be clear: our customers know how to produce their products better than we ever will. You’d have to have a pretty blinkered, and dare I say, arrogant view of the world to think otherwise. But that’s enough corporate bla bla, let’s cut to the chase.

Why does it matter, and while you’re at it: quit the high-level crap and tell me the details!

There are a few key areas where our open architecture approach plays a key role:


Open architecture’s first frontier.

Imagine a world where your system is closed. (I get shivers as I write this). Build preparation, simulation etc., are pre-defined and fixed. How do you keep on innovating? How do you get more and more out of the technology? How do you gain a competitive advantage? How do you harness the hundreds of complementary products and fast-paced innovation in this area of technology? Quite simply, you don’t.

We offer application programming interfaces (APIs) to many external software vendors. Why? Because one has never suited all, and they never will. Different industries, requirements, opinions and outcomes will inevitably lead to different products. So, perhaps if you only operate in one sector with a small customer base, you could get away with using closed architecture. But for us, servicing the broadest possible range of customers, this approach simply doesn’t work. We allow as many APIs as possible to ensure we foster and drive innovation. Most importantly, we give our customers what they need, every step along the process chain, from build preparation, simulation, MES, and process data analysis. It’s the very foundation for Industry 4.0, and it’s the very foundation of our software strategy.

One final thought; imagine if the Apple App store was populated only with Apple produced Apps. Sure, you could do what you need to do, but innovation would be slower, functionality would be lowered, and in the end, it would just be pretty lame.


Pick and mix in the AM candy shop.

Let me start with one thing we will never do. Tell you our machine only works with our powder, or in a slightly more passive-aggressive way – your warranty is invalid if you don’t buy from us ????. Don’t get me wrong: we will always supply our own powder. We love to do so because it adds significant value to our customers (it’s also a recurring revenue stream, and who doesn’t love one of those!) But we do this knowing it adds value, not because we feel we can monopolise it along with the sale of our hardware.

But why does it matter? Materials and process parameters are the most essential ingredients besides the machine itself. Therefore, they are crucial for success. We know our machines, but in the end, the customer knows their application and its operational demands far better than we could ever imagine. Therefore, in no world should they be restricted in getting the perfect part with optimised parameters and innovative scanning strategies, or even the ideal alloy composition for their specific application.

This ability to manipulate and improve the SLM process allows our customers to generate a unique competitive advantage in their segment. It enables them to develop IP and protect any know-how. Quite simply, it will allow them to push the limits. Why? Imagine a closed-loop system, where you get what you are given? This forces you into being compliant and takes away possible choices. Don’t be that guy.

Now let’s get a bit more into the weeds. Many of our customers in regulated industries have certified powder suppliers. Therefore, qualification of new suppliers can be cost-intensive and time-consuming. Why would we impose additional complexity on our customers? Imagine a world where you tell your customer that you can only drive your new Bugatti with a specific brand of petrol. Not in our world!

Final thoughts: You decide on the powder. Our powder, your powder, powder borrowed from your neighbour. The same goes for parameters. Our parameters, your parameters, your uncle Jim’s parameters. It’s your choice either way.

Open Architecture and Service

We take it everywhere! How does this relate, you may ask?

One size fits all may work for the toothbrush industry, but to think it works for our customer base would be downright, well, foolish. Again, it’s just a way of doing business and nothing else. Transactional service, long term agreements, availability warranties, training of your staff, local site agreements, global agreements. In the end, whatever makes our customers successful is how we structure our service offering – customer-specific service contracts with measurable success criteria.

We have changed a lot in how we manage our installed base, and right now, we have a straightforward metric: Customer satisfaction. We are driving that to ensure our customers have a solution for however they best feel our service support suits their needs. I’d be lying if I said everything was always perfect, but what I can assure you is that we are on a path to getting there.

    Once again, the case for being open:

  • It enables and empowers our customers to do more, achieve more, and be more successful – it’s a fundamental competitive advantage
  • It’s an innovation and growth driver at SLM Solutions and in the wider AM industry
  • It puts our customers in control of their visions
  • It’s the right thing to do. It drives increased Return on Investment for our customers
  • We make cool shit, and our customers make even cooler shit because of it

With that said, if you’re hungry tonight and want something special – gourmet even – don’t go out and purchase a microwave-ready meal. Instead, research the best recipes, obtain the best ingredients and use the best gear to make it happen. Now sit down and eat. It tastes good, right?



Are you interested in learning more about our Open Architecture approach? Get in touch with one of our experts today to see how we’re pushing the limit in additive manufacturing.