Changes in the Value Chain Igus Has a 3D Printing Service

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German company Igus is known for motion stages, linear guides, and bearings. The company also makes polymers that have been specially made for wear resistance and can be used in bearings and gears. The company makes e-chains or plastic guides to protect your cables. Starting in 1964 the company has gone to create ever more complex and demanding uses for polymers.
For an industrial components company, they’re very engaged with customers. Igus lets you request free samples of linear guides, bearings and the other products they sell. Igus is always on trade shows as well giving everyone snacks and catalogs. I was told at one point that they have a full-time trade show staff that is either on the road or at a trade show pretty much all the time.

Igus Filament roll black with yellow filament for 3D printing on it

Igus Filament

As a bit of an Igus fanboy, I was surprised to belatedly learn that they have a 3D printing service. You can upload a STEP file and use one of the iglide materials such as iglidur. Your part will be delivered in 24 hours. Igus’ journey is remarkable I think. It started as a polymer company. Then it started making chains and other assembled injection molded parts. Later bearings and guides were added. A few years ago the company took a real interest in 3D printing. It began to engage with the industry and even offered complete motion stages including electronics and encoder. A 3D printer builder could go to Igus and then have them custom build a motion stage for a particular printer. The company also turned its materials into a 3D printing filament. What we have here is a company that is leapfrogging entire segments and verticals in industry.

Igus E-chains being tested.

Igus E-chains being tested.

From polymer to part is something that other companies must be thinking about as well. If you are in a commoditized chemicals business, you could, of course, join the fray and make a 3D printing material. Or you could skip the whole value chain and start a service using your materials. Will more companies do something like this when they enter 3D printing? It would be interesting to know if Igus would make a printer at one point as well. I’m assuming that they’re using their own made printers for production now. Will they put those on the market? Or will that bring them into direct competition with their existing customers? The Igus story is a parable of what an industrial firm can do to meet challenges in an ever-changing world. By comparison, other companies seem to be frozen in aspic hoping that the world does not change one iota. One truism of the current age is that everything will always change. Yes, the famous Heraclitus quote implies that the more things change, the more they stay the same. However, can’t we say that so far the Igus case has shown us that things like core, industry, vertical and “stick to what you know” don’t matter. Many companies find trouble when they stick to what they do rather than exploit what they are good at.

An Igus T-slot Linear Guide

Igus throughout has stuck to what it is good at, which is in a customer-centric way develop new applications for wear resistant polymers. This has led them to new ways of doing business and new product lines as well as having them cross into several industries and many end user groups. Now they’re a polymer company that makes unique parts as a service something I think we’ll be seeing a lot more of.

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