3D printing, no one can deny, has been over-hyped. If there will eventually be a 3D printer in every home, that time is likely not within the next year, or even decade; the technology is not ubiquitous, and it may never be. There’s no denying, either, though, that 3D printing is an incredible technology that does have a lot to offer–but only if those promises can be fulfilled. While some companies overextend themselves, trying too quickly to become too big or too broad, acquiring every smaller startup in sight to have a hand in every pot, we’ve seen that that model often leads to deflated follow-through… when any follow-through happens at all. Too many times we’ve watched great ideas fall flat because promises couldn’t be fulfilled and ultimately products couldn’t be delivered; failure is no stranger to the 3D printing arena.
I found it refreshing, then, to talk this past Thursday at iMakr‘s Desktop 3D Printing Show in London, with Shon Anderson, CEO of South Dakota-based B9Creations. The difference, he told me, is that his company focuses on telling and delivering on what it can definitely do.
“The approach isn’t sexy,” Anderson explained, but it is simple: “We promise what we can deliver.”
By focusing on the areas that can best benefit from the technology they’ve developed–primarily jewelry and dentistry–the B9Creator 3D printer can be used to its best potential. The focus here is laser-sharp: immediate return on investment. What can this technology do for a customer now? While a lot of the promise of 3D printing that we see so often is in projections, the only projection that B9Creations uses is the projector that cures the resin in the B9Creator. Clearly they’ve been doing something right here, as the 3D printer was voted one of 3D Hubs’ Best Resin Printers in their 2016 Printing Guide.
The intrinsic value of a 3D printer has to extend beyond the novelty phase for it to have any lasting benefit to a customer. This is especially important in the desktop 3D printing space, where smaller machines reign supreme, but can easily fall into the trap of being seen as knickknack machines.
“After the fifth Yoda head, the thrill of 3D printing wears off,” Anderson noted.
Where B9Creations steps apart from some of the pack is in honing in on the markets they strive to serve; okay, you definitely can make a Yoda head (or five) on the B9Creator, but this printer’s key to success–it’s worth noting here that the company has been profitable from day one, finding success in “whatever economic conditions”–lies in “serving customers in the right markets.” By knowing its niche and serving those particular needs, we might lose out on some of the sexiness of broader marketing campaigns designed to appeal to broader swathes of potential customers, but those who are looking for the right machine to create their products can easily find the solution they’re looking for.
By appealing directly to the industries they serve, rather than focusing on the fact that they offer a 3D printer, the focus lies with the customers; I was lucky, it turns out, to run into B9Creations at a 3D printing show. I’d have had better luck running into them at a tradeshow based on jewelry or dental industry needs.
“People don’t care about resolution,” Anderson said, “they care about what that resolution will do for them.”
That is, the fact that the machine offering the best solution for their customers happens to be a 3D printer is more of a side note than the highlight. The B9Creations team recognizes that there’s a steep learning curve in 3D printing, and spent 2015 focusing on that, building up their ease of use and putting out instructional videos to introduce customers to the technology. In 2016, the focus for the company will be on solutions.
The B9Creator itself is a pretty neat machine. It’s nice to look at, for one, and for another it’s one of the only wall-mountable 3D printers on the market. For a desktop machine, you sure can save on desk space by not even using any. In developing their 3D printer, the B9Creations team also worked to ensure that they did everything right. Andrew Rush, now the president of Made In Space, was B9Creation’s patent attorney. The key pieces in the printer that make it stand apart from the pack have been patented, forestalling some of the IP issues that so often plague the 3D printing space. And, with the tie to MIS, it looks like we’ll be seeing a B9Creator on-board the ISS, which is looking at high-resolution DLP 3D printing for the next-next gen of additive manufacturing in space.