Antoine Jeol was a co-founder of 3D printing MES company 3DTrust. He sold the company to software firm Bassetti amidst a wave of acquisitions of MES companies. This in and of itself is a part of a bigger M&A trend happening in 3D printing. Due to this, I thought it might be nice to do a kind of post-acquisition autopsy to see how the fledgling firm was doing in the arms of its new owner.
3DTrust is an MES software tool that monitors and lets you optimise your 3D printing workflows. By tracking key data, letting you analyse and improve performance, and tracking settings and parts, an MES can help you go from an artisanal 3D printing process to something suited for regulated manufacturing. 3DTrust had an early advantage in the MES space since it was part of an Airbus incubator. This let the team learn from Airbus and its complex supply chain, as well as highly demanding standards. This led the team to also develop a powder management solution to help companies track metal powder, manage inventories, and make sure parts are made with the right powder batch. Subsequently, Bassetti a privately held company known for its innovation and materials management software, acquired 3DTrust.
Everyone knows that MES software is needed in AM as people move towards production. But, the path to a really large market is a long one, meaning that a tie-up with a partner with more wherewithal makes sense. The partner, meanwhile, can not only profit from the long term success of the MES but also gain entry into the 3D printing market.
Jeol’s view of the landscape and opportunities in 3D printing is shaped by his time as a VC previously for 3M Ventures. His co-founder Alexandre Guérin was at Siemens working for their corporate venturing arm. The team therefore literally screened the market and were discussing technological trends. Jeol says that the seed for 3DTrust was planted in 2014 when they saw the hype around 3D printing but also realised that so few people were using the technology for serial production. He wondered “why are AM applications so limited?” The team’s conclusion was that “there was not enough traceability and feedback.” These things would be sorely needed if companies were to use 3D printing for manufacturing. Solving this became the focus of the team, and after they were a part of the accelerator, they moved to Toulouse to be closer to Airbus.
Initially, “we had a dream to 3D print remotely with 3D printers all over the world doing repeatable in house production…but this was a problem. Ramping up to production was difficult, delivering all of the parts on time with the right quality was hard. This made us move towards developing an MES this would be the first step to letting manufacturers master and control their environments.
This was aided because, “we got our start in aerospace with investors from aerospace. Strategically we also decided to focus on this industry and focus on having few customers but happy customers. We wanted to focus on understanding customers needs and making them happy before then moving to other industries and more sales.
“We did know at one point that having a bigger company to partner with was absolutely necessary. As a small startup you really need industrial credibility and industrial grade support to succeed and this is what Bassetti can provide. Also, because its software is oriented towards R&D, material characterisation these competencies would go well to make the tool even better.”
There were other suitors and the 3DTrust team had advanced discussions with big groups as well.
“One reason why Bassetti was the logical choice is that we wanted to have an impact, on the organisation and the future. With them it was balanced, we both know what we both bring.“
“For now we’re working towards serial production. For that we’re improving the powder management solution, the MES and also a customer portal. This portal can let you accept orders from external parties or let you manage internal orders from within your own company. Kay to us is that our tools are compatible with most of the industrial machines in the market. We can retrieve data from those machines and it is this that helps us manage the production process. To do this we chose not to ‘hack’ the machine but rather negotiate partnerships with the OEM so we interact with the machine properly. This gives us good data and good machine connectivity across polymer and metal systems.
“By managing powder, sorting orders and being a MES we can give customers a path to come to the MES via an easier to implement tool. We know it takes a long time to adopt a MES properly. This is especially true of our customers, they’re almost all large companies in aerospace, automotive and medical now. They each have their own serial production challenges. They are also strict on reporting and they want very detailed traceability. These firms are focused on quality and confidentiality.”
“We know also are starting to work with independent print shops. There we have to show them that we can make money for them and save them time. Time is critical as is maximum productivity.”
Over the past 7 years the market has changed and grown. Now 3DTrust is seeing people doing distributed manufacturing where companies are printing parts, managing IP, and working in a distributed way. They’re also seeing a lot more manufacturing and serial production. Antoine is very bullish on personalised medical devices and serial production.
For customers he advises them to “partner with the right people” most of all.
Please don’t do 3D for the sake of doing 3D. Before you start, negotiate budget, as 3D printing needs to have applications. Start open and try to envision what you could do with making new shapes, or making things more efficiently, or by building things differently. Make the most out of additive. What do I need the most: should it be light, durable, easy to repair? Then experiment with prototyping. Buy a simple printer and go through local shops. Only once you find your ideal technology and application should you start buying a fleet of machines; this needs to be a careful investment. Find the right machine and right processes before you leap into 3D.
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