Like many growing companies working with desktop extrusion-based 3D printing systems, Netherlands-based colorFabb traces its roots to the RepRap movement, with a firm foundation in maker culture. Talking recently with Founder and CEO Ruud Rouleaux at TCT Show 2017 offered a glimpse into the ethos of the growing company as it spreads its wings to see further growth across the industry.
“Integration is key,” Rouleaux said immediately. “We have our start in 2011, among the first open source/RepRap movement filament producers. We had a big exercise last year to figure out where we want to be in the market now; producing only PLA won’t do it.”
The last several years have been a clear point of great growth across the industry, as we saw throughout TCT Show, which offered a strong showing from companies growing from the maker movement. Companies emerging from that open source ethos are navigating the growing industry as it – and they – turn to a more professional, industrial bent.
“We’ve learned so much in the last five years. We are interfacing to match materials to go with platforms, which was a revelation to us because it really works,” Rouleaux said. “Robo came to us, then Stacker, then LulzBot; work with many manufacturers is key – then they asked us to sell their printers, that was new to us.”
Offering materials and machines, colorFabb had its work cut out for it in finding and maintaining its own identity in a quickly-growing, fast-changing marketplace. Adapting to changing conditions and establishing its voice and purpose have proven critical to success, and a challenge colorFabb has been facing head-on, strategically.
“You have to ask: who’s your customer? What do they want? What are people using 3D printing for, is it still a hobby?” Rouleaux noted of the biggest questions to ask in market positioning.
Aware of the hype curve and the damage peaks have caused to 3D printing technologies, colorFabb has worked to ensure viable solutions to existing concerns. The company has maintained a focus on FFF-based technology, where Rouleaux noted that “we had to get FFF to where you can make real products.”
“We aim to produce parts that come off a printer and look finished – without post-processing,” he said.
Among the solutions furthering this aim is the company’s nGen filament line, which he noted is their best selling, and now includes the new nGen_flux material. “It kicked off really well. The light diffusion agent added makes parts look finished,” he noted.
In working to bring 3D printing to more viable applications across the board, Rouleaux explained that their goal is to approach injection molding companies and ask if they are willing to move to 3D printing for small run jobs. The tech is taking off for low-volume manufacturing, where cost benefits can be found in comparison to traditional mold-making for injection molding.
Additional product introductions will seek to increase the options manufacturers have at hand, and colorFabb is at work on some interesting products. Next up will be their under-development warp-free nylon.
“We have been testing many formulations so the one that hits the market has the best all-around properties,” Rouleaux said of the efforts; we’ll be hearing more about this around December.
“If this is successful, FFF has powerful potential to deliver successful properties. This will resolve properties without a heated bed.”
In addition to taking on injection molding and offering additional materials, Rouleaux pointed to another big application for 3D printing in investment casting. Working here with Stacker on a material for investment casting, Rouleaux described this as “an application that really benefits from FFF 3D printing.”
“It was developed to be a drop-in replacement for wax in lost core molding. It burns out clean, with no need to make pre-molds,” he said.
The focus at colorFabb in driving new developments and new marketing positions is in putting applications first. Understanding a need is the best way to develop an appropriate – and viable – solution. In addition to being a strong strategic approach, Rouleaux described this as “our fun factor,” as the colorFabb team heartily appreciate the opportunity to lead developments for extrusion-based material offerings.
“I think we have some good tools on our hands to make valuable FFF 3D printing,” he said of the application-specific material offering from colorFabb.
Looking ahead for the company, in addition to the in-process materials work, is a bright future at a new factory. The larger facility the team recently moved into provides “plenty of space to grow” – fitting neatly with all the plans Rouleaux discussed as colorFabb takes its place in the market with its materials and expanding portfolio of partnerships.
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