No News is Great News: Catching Up with Autodesk & Ultimaker at RAPID


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rapidRAPID 2016 has come and gone like a lightning storm: fast, furious, and flashy. We were on the scene in Orlando, as well as keeping close to our computers for the latest press releases, as the week saw some huge announcements from across the board in hardware, software, and all kinds of offerings in 3D printing. Amidst the excitement, it was refreshing to catch up as well with some companies that weren’t using the conference as a launch pad for new announcements and products, but were there to maintain a presence and help us catch up with everything they already have in the works.

Two companies we cover frequently here at are Ultimaker and Autodesk, and I was fortunate to have the opportunity to speak with representatives from both companies at RAPID. One of the greatest resources available at these conferences is the chance to actually meet face-to-face with individuals from the companies we report on, and meeting with Ultimaker’s Iris Smeekes and Autodesk’s Mark Forth certainly proved to be fantastic for gaining insights into and excitement about these two entities.

19Smeekes, in public relations for Ultimaker, took the time out to sit down with me at RAPID for a unique conversation — in that this was our first opportunity to do so. While RAPID has been showcasing the latest in 3D printing technology for 26 years now, 2016 was the first time for the Netherlands-based company to show at the conference. This, Smeekes told me, is part of the company’s expanding focus on the key US market, as just last month they announced a new president of Ultimaker North America and opened a new sales office in Boston.

In January, Ultimaker released the new Ultimaker 2+ and Ultimaker 2 Extended+ 3D printers, and in March released an upgrade kit to convert an Ultimaker 2 to a 2+, complete with a “+” sticker designating the 3D printer as such. Smeekes told me several times how glad she was to have come to RAPID this year, and I could see for myself that the reception to the new 3D printers has certainly been warm.

Below is a quick look at some of their 3D printers whirring away at the company’s booth:

“People like the backwards compatibility,” Smeeks told me of some of the customer response to the Ultimaker 2+. “Many are buying extra machines for work and prototyping, it is convenient to have desktop machines even if they also have big industrial ones. They are also looking for quicker, faster machines to go with them.” She added that some of the common applications seen on Ultimaker machines include jigs, prototyping, figures, and surgical models.

In talking about the seemingly shrinking desktop market, as more of the big names out there have dropped their consumer sides and narrowed their focus on the industrial market, Smeekes noted that Ultimaker certainly sees a place for desktop 3D printing to continue — and even to grow.

“I think it’s such a shame,” she told me. “A lot of people get the idea that 3D printing isn’t there yet, but there are viable machines.”

While she couldn’t share with me any specifics for upcoming releases, Smeekes reassured me with what we all already assume: Ultimaker is working on new machines — “We are always busy with new things,” she said — though no dates have been set yet.

18On the other side of the exhibit floor was another big name to catch up with, as I went over to meet with Autodesk’s ‎Industry Strategy and Business Development Manager Mark Forth. Forth, who has been with Delcam for 21 of the company’s 40-year history, told me he had come to Autodesk along with their February 2014 acquisition. While Delcam is a wholly owned Autodesk subsidiary and operates fairly independently, it has become more integrated since November 2015, Forth noted, as the two seek to bring out the best in one another.

“It’s bringing the best of Delcam together with the best of Autodesk,” he told me, “which truly shows the seriousness within the business.” A further side of that seriousness is illustrated in that the company relies on its own products. “We use the software we develop in Birmingham, we eat our own dog food, as it were. We test all the software and all complementary knowledge.”

delcamlogo-smallWhile Delcam provides software solutions for familiar names like Optomec, the company also ensures use for smaller companies. A key focus is in providing the best service possible, a point that Forth truly drove home. He explained that 80% of their business is in direct sales, with just 20% conducted via resellers; the close contact with their customers keeps them in the know about what it is that is wanted and needed from software. The key is in providing efficiency and operability, which seems obvious but can sometimes get lost in the shuffle of tech one-upping, or those who prefer to use only additive or subtractive manufacturing techniques; if the best way to get a job done is to use both, there’s no reason these technologies shouldn’t be used together.

“Customers just want to make the best part possible in the most efficient way. They want to use the best way and to add more value. This is not done by replicating subtractive techniques by taking the same methods to additive,” he told me. Forth met with one of Delcam’s customers at RAPID, and they told him that fully 80% of their additively made products also use subtractive processes. “We must take into consideration internal design. This is a complete workflow perspective… The way things were is not the way things are going to be.”

3dp_airbus_partitian_bannrUsing the example of the partition designed for Airbus, Forth noted that a hybrid approach to design is necessary to take all resources at hand and optimize them. With so many designers turning back to biology for inspiration, industrial design is seeing a change in focus from what has been done to how things can best be done. Reengineering parts is especially useful in aerospace, which Forth noted as being at the “precipice of adoption.” Two of the largest aerospace companies are now using Autodesk technology to make their blades, and, Forth said, “Autodesk want to own this space because we understand it.” It’s less now about choosing a technology, additive or subtractive, but in their coming together: “It’s not one or the other, it’s the combination of the two that will benefit customers.”

3dp_fusion360_autodesk_logoWith this view toward the optimal combinations of the best technologies for each part of each job, Autodesk and Delcam are taking a long-view approach to business. “The worlds are so close,” Forth said, and this innovation transcends from large to small in scale of both technology and company size.

While Autodesk had no hard news to present, representatives did note that they were present at RAPID to stay current and to set the stage for IMTS, held in Chicago this September.

While at first it seemed to be almost quiet on the news fronts for these two companies, such players as Ultimaker and Autodesk always have insights to offer — and, as we can glean, some interesting works in their pipelines.

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