The past week was a very busy one for the industry — and for yours truly. I was out on the floor last week in Birmingham at the very busy TCT Show 2016, where a hall at the popular National Exhibition Centre (NEC) was utterly packed with booths featuring some of the best and brightest in additive manufacturing technologies. In conversation after conversation as I interviewed executives and representatives at booth after booth, several themes absolutely emerged — and one of the most prominent was the incredible importance of partnerships as this nascent industry continues to grow astronomically.
The 3D printing industry is seeing double-digit annual growth, a figure no one can dispute, though different forecasters show different specific rates of gains through the next five and ten years. This explosive growth in a young industry initiated certainly with individual companies, new hardware and software offerings, new patents and intellectual property — but after some time, the question has become how to get it into the hands of users around the world. That answer, of course, comes through strategic partnerships. On both the development and the distribution fronts, partnerships are an invaluable resource to companies worldwide as they seek to work together to provide encompassing solutions to the customers searching for them. While much of these partnerships obviously favor the industrial side of the market, many also appear on the consumer side, as technology continues to become more user-friendly and has some hope yet of appearing in more homes.
One of the first companies I talked with in Birmingham was California-based and industrial-focused Carbon, a company we keep up with often — on this side of the pond. However, as Phil DeSimone, Vice President of Product Development, told me, Carbon is looking next to focus on production and to come out of the US. These goals, on the heels of Carbon’s recent successful funding round, are building upon the success the recently-launched company and its flagship M1 3D printer have been seeing; as DeSimone explained, the funding round this time was “not just venture funding” but was “all from partners, all from the folks using the equipment” — and no one invests in what they don’t believe in. Starting with the UK and then Germany, Carbon is ready to get into the European market thanks to partnerships formed — and next on their plate, thanks to partnerships with Nikon and JSR, will be to get into the Asian market. While 40% of the 3D printing market is in their home country, Carbon sees that another 40% of the market is in Europe, and “we need to get out there,” DeSimone said. Additionally, Carbon is seeing successful partnerships in the US focusing on getting the production back to areas that previously thrived on it, such as the Midwestern US, as the Rust Belt continues to transform into the newer Tech Belt.
One of the company’s approaches involves ongoing materials development, as “new materials can lower barriers” to entry, as different material qualities offer different capabilities in additive manufacturing, where much of the focus is turning to production-grade components. Carbon, through their leasing structure with the M1 3D printer, also focuses not just on selling 3D printers, but on building relationships with their customers, with each lease including not just the hardware, but an “appreciating rather than depreciating value” that incorporates software updates every six weeks, use, service, and support offerings in the annual contract. Carbon currently has approximately 170 employees, and is planning to have about 100 printers out by the end of this year.
Below is a video of Carbon’s Vice President of Sales, Paul DiLaura, explaining some of Carbon’s materials at TCT Show.
I next went over to Laser Lines‘ booth, one of the largest at the show, to talk with Mark Tyrtania, the UK-based reseller’s resident 3D printing/AM expert. Tyrtania filled me in on some of his company’s involvement in the industry. A prime focus for the company is distribution of Stratasys‘ machines — in fact, as a Platinum Partner, Laser Lines is the largest Stratasys reseller in the UK. “This reflects sales and support, as well as customer reach,” Tyrtania told me of their Platinum designation. “It’s been a rollercoaster, it’s been a blast,” he said of working with Stratasys. While Laser Lines also distributes products from Stratasys subsidiary MakerBot, including the recently introduced Replicator+ and Mini+ 3D printers, the focus is on the higher end, “keeping toward a value-added stance.” And looking at industries, Tyrtania noted, “I don’t think there’s an industry we don’t sell into.” Illustrating the growth of the 3D printing industry, Tyrtania noted that 16 years ago when he started with the company, the target was to sell six 3D printers per year; now, in a rolling 12-month period, that target is closer to 120 machines sold per year. “I know I’m with the right partner,” Tyrtania told me of Laser Lines’ involvement with Stratasys. In fact, he had just returned from a trip the week before to Israel to hear about Stratasys’ latest road map — “It’s going to be a busy year, a very busy next two years for Stratasys,” he explained, noting that we should all be keeping our eyes open for much more to come from the company that earlier this year introduced the multi-material J750 3D printer.
Of partnerships and expansion, Tyrtania noted that Laser Lines’ customers “are all repeat customers; we focus on forming partnerships, on working closely with each one to really train their operators, who often go on to surpass our own expertise.” Laser Lines also acts as a distributor of machines from SLM Solutions, which was recently set to be acquired by GE — and this, too, only shows a positive for the industry, as Tyrtania points out: “What better endorsement could there be?” That $1.4 billion acquisition “will make everyone pay attention,” he pointed out. “We keep telling everyone — get on this bus.” One interesting note about Laser Lines was that the company has declined invitations to learn more about HP’s recently launched technology, instead preferring to keep building on relationships with the likes of Stratasys and SLM Solutions, which are more established with proven track records in additive manufacturing.
Mcor‘s recently introduced, and long-anticipated, latest 3D printer is going to be released toward the end of October, keeping this company very busy as they prepare for the full launch. Initially announced back in January, the ARKe 3D printer was re-engineered prior to launch to set up hardware enhancements prior to release. I talked with both Deirdre MacCormack, CMO, and Dr. Conor MacCormack, co-founder and CEO, at Mcor’s booth at TCT Show, to get their thoughts on the new machine and how it will impact their customers. As Deirdre told me about their materials and the public reception to the idea of a 3D printer that uses paper, a visitor came by to ask what the material is. “When you say you print with paper, people have a certain impression,” Deirdre noted. “They expect a sort of origami figure, and it’s not that at all.” No, it certainly isn’t — the booth had plenty to show for its full-color 3D printed paper creations made possible with the ARKe 3D printer. As I talked to Conor, he noted that the biggest news for Mcor right now is that the ARKe starts shipping at the end of this month, and that’s where they’ve been focused, getting that ready to go. The ARKe is capable of printing with up to two million measured colors, and features a new, stronger power adhesive, and runs Orange software with Orange Peel prep software that allows for point-and-click ease to see how color will work on a model. “Product development takes years,” Conor told me. “The launch stalled from midsummer in order to enhance it before introduction. We did all the hardware enhancements up front; the software will always be updated.” He assured me that there’s been a generally positive reaction to the wait, even with the higher price point than the initial announcement. Still, their last 3D printer had a price tag of about $50K attached to it, and the ARKe is at $18K, opening accessibility and new distribution channels, opening up more interest (including more industrial interest than the initially announced $6K, pre-enhancement mark).
Mcor works with six main distributors in major markets, selling through approximately 150 dealers — all operating in 50 countries around the world. The higher rates of penetration possible with the ARKe have opened up new distribution interest (though as of now, no pre-order figures have been announced for the ARKe). Veering away from their prior manufacturing strategy, Mcor will now be working with a new production facility to make their 3D printers. Whereas Mcor’s 3D printers had previously been made in the UK (“They were brilliant,” Conor assured me of their earlier partner), the new 3D printers will be made in Poland, by Flextronics (Flex). Flex offers a huge space and higher-volume production capabilities to allow for larger-scale production of the ARKe. Adopting a “Just be honest” philosophy regarding aspects like the price change that came along with the enhancements to the ARKe, Conor told me that while they did lose “one or two” dealers, and many pre-orders were adjusted, “some pre-orders actually went up.” This Ireland-based operation is seeing success building from offering more capabilities and focusing on distributors and production facilities capable of bringing their 3D printers to a very broad base of customers around the globe.
We’ve already taken a closer look at some of the other examples of partnerships exemplified on the floor at TCT Show. From FELIXprinters‘ push to get their new FELIX 2 desktop 3D printer into the hands of customers, thanks to working closely on the touchscreen technology with Printr, to Europac‘s partnership with HP representing the first of such collaborations in the UK, partnerships clearly have quite a role to play in 3D printing these days. Hardware and software development, global distribution, and other aspects of the industry now more than ever before rely on the relationships built among companies with complementary technologies and capabilities.[All photos/video taken on-site at TCT Show by Sarah Goehrke for 3DPrint.com]