I first met Stratasys‘ Andy Middleton, President EMEA, at formnext 2016, where he led a presentation regarding the company’s growing technologies and applications partnerships. Over the last year, Stratasys has continued to make headway into an increasing array of applications, in addition to bringing focus back to 3D printing’s roots in rapid prototyping. 2017 has been a busy year for the mainstay 3D printing company, and it’s not over yet as we can expect more to come over the remaining months.
“We are smart in developing technology. Our customers are much smarter than we are in developing applications,” Middleton said last year at formnext.
Keeping to that same user-aware sentiment, Middleton was engaged throughout the recent TCT Show in the UK, where I had the opportunity to sit down with him to learn more about recent announcements and what we can expect next from Stratasys’ global activities. During a busy week in product introductions, Stratasys announced new application-specific 3D printing materials at TCT Show focusing on eyewear, a market increasingly coming into focus for additive manufacturing. Eyewear is a fast-moving industry in its own right, bringing together vision correction with a sense of personal fashion, and 3D printing is keeping new seasons of designer frames coming to market to meet demand.
“I knew nothing about the eyewear industry a year ago,” Middleton told me with a laugh as he shared some of what he’s learned as Stratasys has become involved.
“The fashion side is so driven by season, it’s so short a time to create and release new designs; if for a promotional photo a company can use a prototype pair rather than the final glasses, because it looks exactly the same, they will save weeks just on that end. During design, they can print four iterations in one run to choose different models quickly.”
From concept to market, streamlining new product development has long been a strong point in favor of 3D printing, and it is in this go-to-market area that Stratasys has been focusing efforts in its solutions offerings. Tailoring new products to specific uses has been a rising theme across the 3D printing industry, and Stratasys has been working to keep up.
“It’s a general trend within the 3D printing market; all suppliers and vendors are developing for specific uses. For the new VeroFlex material, its use is eyewear — which is a huge market, not only driven by an aging population, but, for example in Germany, as a standard accessory,” Middleton explained of the move into eyewear. “End users are looking for more customization; manufacturers are trying to keep up with shortened development cycles. They need the look, the feel, the fit to make decisions: go with this model, go with this model. They need to make a confident decision. This can shorten up to a year in development.”
The recently introduced VeroFlex material is, Middleton told me, a first-generation introduction, noting that “there will be other generations of this material.” Previously, to attain properties of both flexibility and strength within one build, two materials had to be mixed; VeroFlex offers both in one. Such properties will see use in applications beyond eyewear and medical, Middleton said, will be the next area to see this type of material.
As eyewear continues to benefit from a smoother prototyping process, Stratasys is doubling down on its commitment to rapid prototyping — and is seeing results. Early this year, the company introduced its F123 series of prototyping-focused 3D printers. Two months ago, Middleton said, they had shipped 1,000 units worldwide, and will be “scratching 2,000 by the end of 2017.”
“These are the best selling 3D printers Stratasys ever did,” he said. “They offer simplified operation, taking away barriers for customers to invest, and at an aggressive price point.”
Going along with the strong unit sales has been what Middleton described as a “great first half of the year” in terms of overall company performance. While as we talked we were in “the dreaded third quarter,” he is “confident in seeing high single- or low double-digit growth over 2016” for this year.
TCT Show 2017 proved a place for some interesting conversations, and my chat with Middleton was certainly that. He noticed an uptick in “great new technologies, and more startups,” which he noted as “confirmation that 3D printing is finding usage among a variety of sectors.” Coming up next in terms of big shows for Stratasys is the industrial-focused formnext, held next month in Frankfurt. While Middleton wouldn’t let slip too much of what we can expect to hear from Stratasys this year, it is clear that we should be expecting some interesting announcements ahead. I’ll look forward to attending that show to see first-hand the latest product introductions and business moves.
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