Vyomesh Joshi (VJ to everyone) took over 3D Systems at a difficult time in the firm’s history. The pioneering 3D printing firm had trailblazed a path for the technology to go from the drawing board into many firms worldwide. Used mainly for prototyping but also for millions of jewelry intermediates and hearing aids, the commercialization of stereolithography was a success. But the media hype of the period around 2009 to 2014 brought new challenges. Faced with media and investor scrutiny and anticipating new market entrants, 3D Systems had gone on a buying binge.
From the outside, its shopping spree looked like a rather haphazard affair, a fruity roll-up strategy that seemed to be an attempt at building an acquisitions driven stock price increase machine. Perpetual motion through press release, the storied company’s track record soured. Yes, there were revenue increases, but at what cost? Employee morale plummeted, customers and partners lost faith, product releases were bungled, support became haphazard. For a competitor, I was evaluating a small 3D printer the firm put out at the time. I couldn’t get the SLA machine to work properly. I was embarrassed but later found out that no one else had gotten it to work either. Two resellers told me that all the ones they sold had come back. All of them. The firm that invented SLA, had forgotten to SLA. Across the board, the firm soared in public and soured in private.
On the tail end of the 3D printing hype boom, VJ was brought in to right a listing ship. In an age where everybody wants to be the “vision person” or “have the big idea” he faced an unenviable task of doing extensive maintenance on a ship that was underway. Meticulous fixing, repair, morale-boosting, organizational design, integration, IT; it was all watchmaker stuff, precise, often delicate, and not at all the front page Forbes filler. Looking back on his years at 3D Systems, we can see that VJ pulled off a herculean task behind the scenes at 3D Systems. Now the firm is much more coherent, stable, and dependable with an eye on the future.
Recently VJ has made it clear that he is seeking a new CEO to replace him and that he is to retire “to spend time with my grandson and family.” We interviewed him to see how he looked back on his time in 3D printing. Right now VJ is proud of his accomplishments and sees the company as “being in the right place“, with “a great plastics and metals platform” and a”new innovative materials and a solution-driven offering” to move towards “growing revenue and profitability in 2020.”
“Producing over 200 million production parts in 2019” on 3D Systems technology is a result of, “a strategy to go after production” that created “multiple production workflows that customers are using for production parts…in dental, medical devices, jewelry, manufacturing and more.” Real steps that were needed to get here consisted of working on the “culture of the organization and integrating 51 acquisitions” that “weren’t integrated previously.” A lot of work was done in “company culture, business processes, IT” and this has resulted in “higher customer satisfaction with negative NPS turning into 65 positive NPS” for example. A particularly difficult task was to increase “employee engagement and create empowered employees” because “building culture is very hard” and “we had over 50 companies with their own cultures” that had to be given “one 3D Systems culture.”
To accomplish this “cultural change” he first visited many sites in “listening mode” speaking with “customers, partners, employees, and investors” and then later “discuss our values” and “behaviors consistent with these values” such as “honesty, integrity, innovation, trust and empowerment.” This process “is a journey that took me four years” and “this cultural transformation” is the “hardest thing to achieve.” In order to get it right “there has to be trust, stability, compassion, empathy and hope.” Employees must know that “it’s OK to make mistakes.”
While “shifting from prototyping to production” the signals that “we were believing in employees” while “investing in R&D” and simultaneously building the organization were important. “The company had incredible talent, especially at the engineering level,..harnassing that talent, and bringing in new people who you can work with” lead to “trust and empowerment” and a higher-performing organization. “We have the core group of innovators, we now need to listen to their ideas, put ideas into innovation agenda and into a shared product development cycle…for the entire company.” In an integrated way, they had to look at metals, software, and plastics as well as introduce a shared methodology to “develop and introduce products.” This convergence coupled with “clearly defined P+L” were important developments along with “investing in Oracle 12.0, introducing processes where there were no processes and integrating IT systems.” Subsequently, they had to find common ways of “how to look at customer insights and measurements, how to use common HR systems, how to rate and pay people across the company.” There was “a lot of heavy lifting…resulting in over 50 startups, becoming a unified company.“
“We needed to find new platforms where we have a sustainable competitive advantage” and become “a technology innovation company.” He sees the firm as having “much more traction in manufacturing” and “leading in dental” with “the Figure4 particularly doing well.” In metals “new metal platforms and materials” have lead to “top medical device manufacturers signing up” with 3D Systems with the “healthcare segment is important with double-digit growth.” VJ stated that there was also “more software revenue” and “increased revenue from the solution approach.”
He states that now “we are a technology company, and while macro trends can help us become…a digital manufacturings solutions company..for a much larger market” in “what will be a very competitive environment with lots of big companies entering the 3D printing segment…and the Market will be looking at consolidation.” Since he joined 3D Systems, the “competitive environment has changed significantly” with more firms now “focussing on digital manufacturing solutions” and in particular an “end to end approach.” He sees a key differentiator there for his firm because “some focus on software and other competitors focus just on the technology.” Compared to firms such as “EOS and HP, 3D Systems focusses much more on solutions encompassing hardware and software.”
The “new CEO will have to take it to the next level” with the 3D printing industry “now having crossed the chasm.” “The right person..really has a global experience…and will be a leader able to take the portfolio that we have to innovate forward” and while “cherishing innovation, preserving the culture and growing the company.” The firm is looking at both internal and external candidates to fill the position.
VJ will miss 3D Systems once he leaves because “I’ll really miss building this company… it is my baby..we have really created something.” He is also really curious about “where this whole additive manufacturing thing will go” and expects “much more to come.” “We’re now starting work in bioprinting..with the high-resolution 3D printing of scaffolds for lungs…at the level of gas exchange” and expects that “in the future…the technology will have major impacts on the world.”
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