B2B software company Twikit offers solutions that enable companies to benefit from digital production techniques for mass individualisation, such as 3D printing. In addition to manufacturers of custom orthoses, OEMs in the automotive sector are also in the company's target group. Martijn Joris, the CEO of Twikit, explained it all to Ward Vleegen of our Transport & Mobility Technology Club. Watch the video here.

Good morning Martijn. Can you introduce yourself and your company?

Sure. My name is Martijn Joris. I am CEO and one of the co-founders of Twikit. We are an Antwerp-based company providing solutions enabling brands, such as automotive OEMs, to tap into the market of mass individualization. We do that by making use of digital manufacturing techniques, such as 3D Printing.

Could you please explain what exactly you are doing in terms of 3D Printing?

Basically, we are a B2B software company. Our core offering is a software platform which connects the front end of the supply chain with digital manufacturing, factories or 3D printers, for example. We focus more on the software and the application at the front end of the supply chain. This also means that we are not a 3D Printing company, we do not build 3D Printers and we also do not offer 3D Printing services. However, we do build on top of all that, making the subsequent applications possible.

Could you give some examples of applications in the automotive industry? Your software is probably often white label, so end customers may not always be aware that they are working Twikit software?

Indeed Ward, our software is white label so you would not recognize the Twikit technology inside the website or inside the dealership. 

In the case of 3D Printing, that software is the fully customizable dashboard. For other technologies such as laser cutting or CNC, this means door sills and many lighting applications, such as a light projected onto the street when the door is opened or custom interior lighting. We also have applications in gear shifters, in rims, floor mats, and key chains to name but a few. The story is always the same: OEMs either want to tap into customization for a design-minded customer or they already do customization via a bespoke workshop. In each case, we will input their products into our engine. We make a digital mold of the product and then automatically deploy the front-end user interfaces at the dealerships or on the e-commerce website while, on the other side, our engine connects directly with the digital manufacturing hubs.

So whenever a consumer makes a unique part in the front end, we will take that unique configuration and shoot it back to our engine. The engine automatically creates a production-ready file and send it to the back-end, to the 3D printer or to the digital manufacturing machine. The produced part is then sent either to the factory, the dealer or directly to the consumer. 

What made you decide to found your own company?

8 years ago, we started a discussion with the co-founders, who all lived in Antwerp. Back then I was working at Materialise, a well-known Belgian leader in 3D Printing and also a great company to work at. I remember late-night discussions with the co-founders about how we could bring the potential of additive manufacturing to more consumers and more brands. We eventually arrived at the idea of a software platform which would be very easy to use on the front-end for consumers and which would transfer all the complexity of manufacturing to the back-end. This vision was formed 8 years ago and we decided “let’s do it”. 

In these 8 years, you have built a very nice company and you are now working in different industries.  How does the automotive industry compare to others?

We are active in different markets, but automotive and orthotics (wearables) are our focus markets today. Most importantly, there is significant overlap between the two. The focus is always on the digital transformation of a supply chain. One of the main differences between automotive and orthotics is that they have different structures: if you can work with 15 automotive OEMs, you have covered almost the entire market. The orthotics market is much broader. There are a couple of large companies and a large number of small/medium-sized companies. This involves different sales tactics. In the automotive industry, we focus more on adding value, adding luxury via customization, whereas in orthotics the braces are a basic necessity. With our medical parts, we help people to live their lives. Focusing on luxury as well as basic necessities creates very nice dynamic in Twikit, and I really like that tension within the company. 

You mentioned dealerships, design, marketing, and engineering. Where do you go first to sell your product?

Good question. You are right to point this out as it is a transformative technology. Also, because it is multidisciplinary multiple teams are required to get this done. At Twikit, we developed internal grids on where to start within the OEM’s organization. There are some OEMs where we have entered through the IT department. If the OEM already has bespoke workshops, that can also be a way in for us. 3D Printing has also evolved from rapid prototyping to real production technology, and OEMs have created huge additive manufacturing teams and that is also a good starting point for us. We try different channels and see which is the best fit. We also coach the OEM and help them to create the required multidisciplinary team.

Martijn, I have the impression that a lot of people are talking about mass customization, but in fact only a few people are actually doing it. Is the automotive industry a frontrunner in this domain? And how will mass customization evolve in the coming years?

I think you’re right; part of the reason is that every technology goes through a hype cycle. At some point, everyone starts talking about it and it gets built up, and then the tide begins to ebb and the real structural growth starts. We noticed a similar phenomenon with mass customization. At one point, there were promises that everything would be mass-customized. We believe that many things will be mass-customized, but not everything. The automotive industry is definitely a frontrunner in this area. You have been able to make many choices when buying a car for several decades already. Many OEMs tell us “you don’t need to preach mass customization, we already do that”. We need to preach “mass individualization”. This means taking the process a step further. However, we learned at Twikit that the market really needs to showcase the potential for customization. A nice example of this is a suit: for centuries now, it has been possible to have tailor-made clothes that fit perfectly and look nice. If tomorrow someone should develop a solution to digitize the process and bring this possibility to the masses, there will be demand for it because there is already demand now.

You mentioned at the beginning of the interview that you started the company based on a vision you shared with your co-founders. Today, what are your goals in the automotive industry? What would be your 'ultimate project’?

The vision that we help to build on is our belief that cars need to become more modular. We are already seeing this in the market today. Modularity helps OEMs to keep factories for a longer time, to change models and interiors more quickly, to have more local on-demand manufacturing possibilities. That is something that the OEMs are really looking for, namely a more flexible way of building cars. They want to be more efficient, manufacture smaller series and act quicker on market demand. Consumers have become very demanding. Customers want access to the possibility of making changes quickly, and digital manufacturing is geared towards exactly that. We want to foster a more sustainable way of manufacturing, and making it on-demand and local. That adds value for the OEM (more flexible), but also for the world (more sustainable) and for the end customer (more individualized). And that, in essence, is the broader vision that we are working on and that we are pitching every day to all the OEMs and Tier-1s in the automotive industry. 

And if you combine that with the trend towards electrification and the fact that OEMs are working on a kind of skateboard where the battery and the drivetrain are shared by many vehicles and a different body and interior can be placed on top of the same skateboard, you could help to customize everything that goes on top of the skateboard?

Exactly right. And then consumers can keep the skateboard. If you want to change your car’s interior after a year or you want to add functionalities you can do that in a modular way. Cars will be on the roads for longer and they will be more individualized. I think that is a win-win-win for everyone.

Impressive! It’s like Tesla’s “over the air” updates, but for hardware instead of software!

Yes indeed.

Thanks Martijn, you gave me some really interesting insights. It’s really impressive to see the journey you have taken over the past 8 years and I am really curious to see what you will achieve in the coming years. We’ll stay in touch!

Thank you Ward. 

Read also our other articles in this series: