DSM’s Hugo da Silva: “I Don’t Think That Anyone Should Own the Ecosystem”

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Hugo da Silva has been running DSM’s 3D printing unit now for over two and a half years. During that time the firm has shown itself a determined force in the market. DSM has been active in 3D printing materials for over 26 years and over the past two has redoubled its efforts. Beginning as a standalone SLA resin supplier the firm has evolved. The company has focussed deeply on verticals such as automotive, construction and manufacturing.

As well as these efforts the Dutch chemical, plastics, and food additive giant has partnered with end-users, service companies and startups extensively. Along with BASF it is DSM that has moved into the 3D printing space the most aggressively. BASF seems however to want control and end to end solutions all offered by the firm while DSM is more partner ecosystem minded.

I’ve been fascinated by how these large materials companies all approach our market very differently and we’ve been following them closely. DSM has been 3D printing passenger bridges, lead a round in Additive Manufacturing Technologies, worked with Twikit on developing solutions for automotive, offered a new fire retardant material, invested in Inkbit, headed up a group for flexible materials and worked with BAC to put parts on their car. At the center of all that activity stands Hugo who is a surprisingly serene, calm, cool and collected voice amidst the flurry of initiatives his company has deployed.  

Hugo da Silva

He feels that “they’ve really made the move towards real manufacturing” and have had “good focus” on “bringing together” all of the disparate elements needed for that. The company, “filled its pipeline with real manufacturing projects, partnerships, commercial deals and venturing” that “make manufacturing happen.” DSM has made “quite some investments in the last few months” and this and it’s business development efforts have focussed on “real manufacturing of components” and “real manufacturing projects” with “a customer behind them.” His vision sees the firm “address manufacturing challenges through an ecosystem” where “DSM does not want to do it all.” In bringing about “the digital tools needed to enable manufacturing to happen” the I AM Tomorrow challenge, for example, they chose 6 startups out of 75 to together create the digital supply chain. In terms of the “digital workflow, things like prediction, manufacturing profiles, inspection” it is the combination of “all the companies in the ecosystem” that will make the “other pillars sustainable.” 

A DSM automotive part with predictive failure through Digimat

Hugo states that there is a fundamental difference between DSM’s approach and where other companies are headed. “I don’t want parts and pieces.” Instead “I want to help OEMs and customers understand how to optimize parts.” “We have a fundamentally different approach to partnering”…”I don’t think that anyone should own the ecosystem.” “If we draw a parallel to the Apple App store the one making the app owns the app” and “yes, the future is digital” but the way for “us to drive adoption for ourselves and others by sharing and enabling companies to work together.” Through this path, “everyone will make money” and this is why they are “heavy on venturing, not heavy on M&A.

DSM Arnite material is a GF pet granulate made for large scale printing of things such as pedestrian bridges.

He believes that currently in 3D printing “in the digital era, the center of gravity, is on materials” and “materials companies have leverage because of the properties that they provide.” But, parts have to work, “if we print it a 100 times, test it a 100 times“.. in the “millions of combinations of settings” the parts have to function. He points to things such as the Twikit partnership on prosthetics, and CEAD’s 3D printing of recyclable polymer bridges using Arnite as “projects with real applications.”  

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